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John Grierson - Documentary Auteur

Friday, 6 August 2021  |  Admin

The establishment of the British Documentary Movement in the 1930s, led by John Grierson at the GPO Film Unit, showed the importance of film for communicating with the general public for whom a weekly visit to the cinema was a "must" for many families.

Grierson's reputation as a factual film maker, was further recognised in his native Scotland when he was asked by the fledgling Films of Scotland Committee, set up by the Scottish Office, to oversee the production of a series of films for the Empire Exhibition to be hosted by Glasgow in 1938. Panamint Cinema published these seven films in a 2-disc set, Scotland Calling, now long deleted, which also featured amateur films, some in colour made by visitors to the exhibition.

The best of these films, was The Face of Scotland, directed by Basil Wright, who jointly directed Night Mail, with Harry Watt later to direct Squadron 992 - the story of the RAF's Barrage Balloon squadrons.

As Britain entered the Second World War, film was an essential way of maintaining public morale and keeping the public informed about the progress in the war and The GPO Film Unit became the Crown Film Unit in 1940. Many other commercial film units including The Shell Film Unit, Paul Rotha Production, BP turned their camera to the war effort and many thousands of "propaganda" films were produced for cinema release.

A rare collection of some of these films is available on our DVD Scotland's X-Files, including films depicting work in Scottish shipyards, farms,  and the importance of Prestwick Airport as a hub for international transport.

In 1954 the Films of Scotland Committee was resurrected and went on to oversee the production of more than 150 films covering all aspects of Scotland at work and play, until 1982, when the committee was disbanded in the face of the growing competition from television.

In 2010, Panamint Cinema produced Scotland's first Blu-ray release, Faces of Scotland, which included The Face of Scotland, and was released to coincide with BBC Scotland's 6-part series Films of Scotland, produced by Hopscotch films, a tribute to the many films produced by the Films of Scotland Committee.