Film of the Year: Auschwitz: History Today and the Grierson Trust Have Together Awarded Their Annual Historical Film Prize to the Powerful BBC Series Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution'. Juliet Gardiner Explains Why; and on the Following Pages Two Historians of the Documentary and Feature Film Industries Reveal Aspects of Their Subjects
Gardiner, Juliet, History Today
JOHN GRIERSON (1898-1972) is usually described as the 'father' of the British documentary film movement. He described his offspring as being 'the creative treatment of reality', and his first excursion into the genre was Drifters (1929), a naturalistic documentary representation of the herring industry but owing an artistic debt to Soviet montage editing techniques. In tribute to him, the Grierson Trust gives awards to documentary film-makers in recognition of the finest work on UK television each year.
One is for historical documentary, and History Today is also associated with this award, giving 1,000 [pounds sterling] to the winner; one of the magazine's trustees serves on the judging panel. This year that interesting task was mine. The other judges were Simon Schama; columnist Allison Pearson; documentary film-maker David Hevey; and Will Wyatt, former chief executive of BBC Broadcast.
We were tasked with choosing which of the shortlist best demonstrated 'evidence of quality, integrity, creativity, originality and overall excellence'. This challenge brought all the debates and concerns about television history that have been extensively aired--not least in these pages over the past few years--to an intense focus. How successfully had the programme-makers compensated for the fact that television is a visual medium and that frequently no footage exists for whatever the narrative of the programme calls for? Did computer simulation add new insights or did it make it harder to separate known fact from speculation? Did dramatic reconstructions illuminate, or tumble a serious subject into a costume drama? Did the documentaries suggest a straightforward narrative or did they include analysis, suggest historical debate and conflicting interpretations? …