Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thinking of England: "World Garden" and the Films of the British Council

World Garden (1941) from British Council Film Archive on Vimeo.

“They come to Kew in early Spring when yellow daffodils bring thoughts of Summer sunshine. They come to Kew in the bright light of May, when the cherry blossom is falling.”

My pal Faisal Qureshi passed this along. It’s a lovely, short, glorious color journey through Kew Gardens directed by Robin Carruthers and shot by the great Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A Space Odyssey, Cabaret). The cinematography, as you might imagine, is marvelously textured, taking full advantage of Technicolor’s vibrancy and depth. Needless to say, it’s not exactly the kind of thing we think of nowadays when we say “documentary.” It’s more like a non-fiction fantasy of Kew Gardens, a brief little daydream made all the more poignant by the fact that it’s dated 1941.

To that point, World Garden was made by the British Council, which, “from the early nineteen thirties, for a period of about twenty years…was an enthusiastic commissioner and distributor of documentaries, designed to showcase Britain to the outside world at a time when fascism was becoming evermore prevalent across Europe.”

The films, which have been held in the BFI Archives, are currently being collected, archived, and made available to the public through the TIME/IMAGE website. You can check out some of them here – there are also articles, a blog, etc. One of the main forces behind this project is the New Deal of the Mind, “a coalition of artists, entrepreneurs and opinion formers who recognise the economic, social and cultural value of Britain’s creative talent,” formed by journalist Martin Bright partly as an attempt to increase employment in Britain's creative sector during the 2008-2009 recession.

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