British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview

Film and the Festival
of Britain

SARAH EASEN

THE FESTIVAL OF Britain, from 3 May to 30 September 1951, aimed to provide respite from the effects of World War II by celebrating the nation's past achievements in the arts, industry and science, as well as looking hopefully to a future of progress and prosperity. It marked the halfway point of the century, a natural moment at which to take stock and examine advances in British society. The Director General of the Festival, Gerald Barry, promised `a year of fun, fantasy and colour', an interlude of `fun and games' after the long run of wartime austerity. 1

Film was integral to the Festival of Britain. It related to the Festival's three main areas of concern, the arts, industry and science. Britain's role in international film culture had already been established by the growth of the British documentary movement since the 1930s. The Festival of Britain therefore seemed a natural place to demonstrate the fruits of British film production. The Festival of Britain site in London on the South Bank featured a purpose-built film theatre, the Telekinema, for big-screen public television broadcasts and the showing of specially commissioned Festival films. 2 The Television Pavilion also displayed a brief history of the new medium. Cinemas around the nation featured seasons of classic British filmmaking. The exhibitions themselves also used film as a tool for expressing concepts and processes that could not easily be displayed. So film was not only a medium for the exposition of ideas within the Festival of Britain exhibitions, it also contributed to the entertainment on offer.

Originally the plan for a 1951 festival derived from the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 which showcased the achievements of newly industrialised Victorian society and its global empire. Gerald Barry, editor

____________________
I work for the British Universities Film and Video Council on their British Newsreels Project. I am currently researching British women non-fiction film-makers. My interest in the post-war modernisation of Britain led me to programme a season of films and curate an exhibition at the National Film Theatre for May 2001 celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain. Sarah Easen

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