This week’s update from the National Archive

This week Sarah left me to my own devices as I spent a sunny afternoon down at the National Archives rifling through a file on the Imperial Relations Trust Film Committee…

Not to be confused with the Joint Film Committee of the Travel Association and British Council (see Sarah’s blog post for last week), the Imperial Relations Trust Film Committee was established in 1938 with the view of assessing the distribution of ‘Empire’ films between the UK and the Dominions and Colonies of the Empire. Its chief aims were to review the current distribution methods, to seek ways of increasing the supply and distribution of Empire films into the Dominions and Colonies, and to increase the supply of Dominion films into Great Britain.

Government funds were pumped into collecting research and gathering statistics on the proportion of Empire related films that were being distributed throughout the Dominions and Colonies in comparison to other films distributed but produced in other countries. This included both feature films and documentaries. Much of the Committee’s legwork was carried out by John Grierson, a name that continues to be synonymous with the Films of the British Council project. Grierson exploited his wide network of contacts, collaborating with many of the production and newsreel companies that he was at one time or another affiliated with to investigate whether Great Britain could compete in terms of distribution. He was also asked to advise the Committee on how to increase the supply and distribution of films into the Dominions and Colonies as well as make recommendations on what new films could be produced that the Committee deemed ‘suitable for Empire audiences’.

Subsequently, after investigating methods of distribution, the Committee began to build strong relationships with the Canadian and Australian governments, offering them grants to establish their own Film Committees under Grierson’s supervision. The promise of financial assistance towards the production of film in both Canada and Australia would have appealed to both governments but in many ways the deal was most beneficial for those concerned back in Britain. The replication of Britain’s own successful state-sponsored filmmaking structure in Canada, allowed the Imperial Relations Trust Film Committee to exert a degree of control over their investment, which they largely dedicated to increasing the number of Empire films available for distribution in Canada and increased the number of copies of existing Canadian films so that some of these new prints could be donated to the Imperial Film Library back in Britain.

Surprisingly, the British Council had little involvement with the Imperial Relations Trust Film Committee until their third Committee meeting when Philip Guedalla, the chairman of the Joint Film Association of the Travel Association and British Council, was invited to join the Committee.

Adam Field

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