Women filmmakers’ unseen movies revealed

More than 100 rare and unseen films from over six decades of women amateur filmmakers will be revealed by the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA), part of the University of East Anglia (UEA), to celebrate International Women’s Day.

This rich collection of films offers an unprecedented view of the interests and approaches of women filmmakers between the 1920s and the late 1980s. The films reveal a striking range of themes and topics, from depictions of life in Britain and abroad, to unique observations about the social and cultural changes taking place around them. All the films are Institute of Amateur Cinematographers’ (IAC) award winners, but haven’t previously been screened for a general audience.

The films illustrate the different ways in which women amateur filmmakers worked during the last century. Previously assumed to play a secondary or incidental role in amateur film productions, the research undertaken at EAFA during the cataloguing and digitisation of this collection demonstrates a more complex and varied range of production practices. These films were made by lone filmmakers, cine club teams, husband and wife partnerships, young women, students and children.

EAFA’s research also found that:

  • The partnership between Stuart and Laurie Day revealed that women were key to such creative collaborations
  • The all-women team of Sally Sallies Forth arose out of cine-club interests
  • Mollie Butler made her own animated and live action films, before acting as an advocate for younger filmmakers

Dr Sarah Hill, a cultural engagement fellow with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), worked on the Women Amateur Filmmakers in Britain project at UEA.

Dr Hill said: “The Women Amateur Filmmakers in Britain collection showcases the variety of films produced by women amateur filmmakers in the 20th Century.

“While women have previously been largely overlooked within amateur filmmaking, this collection demonstrates that women have made a significant contribution to amateur film production. This fascinating collection brings their work to the forefront, providing exposure to films that were previously hidden.

“I am delighted that audiences can now see these films for the first time and give these talented filmmakers some well-deserved attention.”

EAFA’s Director, Dr Keith Johnston, said: “Having these films available makes it possible to see the incredibly strong creative work of these female amateur filmmakers, which has remained hidden for so long. EAFA is delighted to be central to this research, and to bringing these films to a wider audience.”

Sheila Graber, one of the female filmmakers whose work has been catalogued and digitised, used her amateur animated films as a step towards a professional career working on television shows such as Paddington.

Ms Graber said: “I began playing with a Super 8 camera and animation in 1970 and would have continued just for fun had I not joined a local cine club and through them the IAC. This unique project at EAFA at last brings many of the highly creative and individual films and filmmakers out of the shade and into the limelight.”

The research is presented through a multi-level catalogue designed to support teaching, research, broadcast or film screening. The catalogue was produced by EAFA as a result of funding from The National Archives’ National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives. The digitisation of these films was supported by the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers and the John and Joy Chittock Trust.

The catalogue and a selection of the digitised films can be accessed here, and some of the key films are:

  • Mollie Butler, Magnum Opus (1981) - The story of a disabled musical note – a semi-breve with two left feet – produced for the International Year of Disabled People.
  • Sheila Graber, The Cat and the Tune (1977) - A flute-playing cat is joined by an orchestra of colourful characters in this short film by the award-winning animator, Sheila Graber.
  • Frances Lascot, Sally Sallies Forth (1928) – a comedy about a young girl who becomes a maid for a day.

A selection of films will be screened in cinemas across the UK until March 17, offering audiences a chance to see these unique films on the big screen. More information about the collection is available on the EAFA Twitter and Facebook accounts: @EAFAAmateurFilms and Facebook.com/femaleamateurfilmmakers 



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