Chapter One

Michael Arrowsmith
Sunday 17 March 2019


Advertising “The Empire” series in Kinematograph Weekly, 17 February 1927, 12.


The opening chapter explores the earliest attempts to use films to inform, educate and inculcate colonial citizens,foregrounding the role of film in colonial administration and unpicking the origins of government filmmaking in Africa.The chapter traces the pre-history of the Colonial Film Unit in the inter-war period, a moment when non-fiction film – whether “documentary” film in Britain, educational film for schools, or instructional films specifically for colonial audiences – starts to be worked through and institutionalized by the British government. While histories of non-fiction film in Britain have invariably centered on the British Documentary Movement, the chapter introduces another path that often runs counter to, but intersects with, John Grierson’s celebrated Documentary movement. This instructional, educational, “useful” cinema, run by administrators and civil servants, forms an integral aspect of British cinema history, one that is too often obfuscated by a focus on prestige documentary and the feature film. Central to this history is the figure of William Sellers, a health officer in Nigeria who, in 1939, would set up the Colonial Film Unit. 






P. 13

READ: PDF of article by William Sellers, “Health Education,” The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, July 1955, 439-440.

P. 16

WATCH: Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright, GPO Film Unit, 1934).

P. 17

WATCH: The Both Mechanical Respirator (Norman Spurr, 1938).

PP. 19-31

WATCH: Black Cotton (British Instructional Films, 1927)

P. 20

READ: Edward Davson, “Empire Films,” The Times, 10 October 1923, 11

P. 23

READ: Kinematograph Weekly’s review of Black Cotton and the Empire Series. Kinematograph Weekly, 24 February 1927, 76.

PP. 25-27

WATCH: One Family (Walter Creighton, British Instructional Films, 1930)

P. 26

READ: One Family, Manchester Guardian, 8 July 1930, 6.

P. 27

READ: British Instructional Films Educational Department, Catalogue of Films for Non-Theatrical Exhibition (1928) (Extract – full catalogue at BFI)

PP. 35-37

READ: Full list of BEKE films, from Notcutt, L.A. and G.C. Latham. The African and the Cinema: An Account of the Work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment during the Period March 1935 to May 1937 (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1937), 211-2

P. 37

WATCH: African Peasant Farms (Leslie Notcutt, BEKEFILM, 1936)

PP. 37

WATCH: Tropical Hookworm (Leslie Notcutt, BEKEFILM, 1936)

P. 37

WATCH: Veterinary Training of African Natives (Leslie Notcutt, BEKEFILM, 1936)

PP. 37-8

READ: G.C. Latham, Films for Africans, Sight and Sound, Winter 1936, 123-25.

P. 42

WATCH: Jamaican Harvest (Frank Bundy, Gaumont British Instructional, 1938)

PP. 47-9

WATCH: Anti-Plague Operations, Lagos (William Sellers, 1937)


PP. 47-53

READ: Films available for the Health Propaganda Unit in Nigeria.

Short extract from “Report on Health Unit, Nigeria, January 1940,” CO 1045/227, TNA.

P. 52

WATCH: The Heart of an Empire (Alexander Shaw, Strand, 1935).

P. 55

WATCH: Atlantic (Mary Field, Gaumont British Instructional, 1940)


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