Boom Britain: The Debate

The culmination of the Boom Britain season saw writer and historian John Wyver chair a discussion on the impact and legacy of the documentaries screened over the two months. Patrick Russell, the BFI's non-fiction Senior Curator, sets out the proposal made in his book Shadows of Progress, co-edited with James Piers-Taylor, that accompanies the season. His thesis is that an era of filmmakers has been neglected because they don't align comfortably with the academic narrative. Russell makes clear that the book and the season are not deliberately revisionist projects, but better map the evidence available onto the history of documentaries. They more fully paint a picture of the time when documentaries were bound up in the world of public relations, filling a gap in the story of the form's evolution.

Historian and filmmaker Michael Chanan suggests that the neglect of these films is due to their eclipse by the pioneers of Free Cinema. In the wake of a movement that scorned the prevailing culture, those who operated within the system became undervalued. Jonathan Derbyshire, culture editor of The New Statesman makes a case for the value of the films being the window they provide onto a world where the free market didn't run unchecked; a time when there was a utopian sense of the future being something better. Aysha Rafaele, commissioning editor of documentaries for Channel 4, talks about how the work of John Krish in particular depicts a sense of community that weirdly foreshadows Cameron's 'big society', a feeling we can be nostalgic for without having ever known it. The panel reflect on how we can continually discover work that renews its relevance and resonance and how cinema and its archives can generate and reconstitute history in unforeseen ways.



 

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