Derek Williams' Foothold on Antarctica (1956) follows the perilous Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Mission and his beautifully made The Shetland Experience (1977, new print) contemplates the remote islands' fate in the rush for North Sea oil. As part of our Boom Britain series, both Oscar nominated films screened at BFI Southbank followed by a conversation on stage between Patrick Russell, the BFI's non-fiction Senior Curator, and Williams himself.
Here the director touches on his early career and the way that developing a reputation as an adventurer led to him being pegged as a 'polar cameraman' for some time. While this felt a natural fit as a young man, Williams identified himself as an intellectual, and in a bustling Soho populated by professionals who looked to Hollywood, he felt drawn to more thoughtful films as his career developed.
Williams regards it as an invention of documentary's narrative that there is such a clear division between his contemporaries and the pre-war practitioners. He puts it down in part to their following the wartime era when documentary was elevated to the status of a patriotic pursuit. The subsequent, and to Williams, spurious, claims that his generation were tainted by industrial sponsorship also played their part. He speaks with insight about the nascent divisions between the documentary form on television and in film and reflects on how he negotiated a period when the changing shape of industry meant that his own field too became more fragmented.