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Battleship Potemkin (BFI) in November

In the 1920s and 30s, Soviet propaganda films profoundly influenced the emerging luminaries of British documentary filmmaking, shaping their ideas about film as an art form. Sergei Eisenstein’s ground-breaking Battleship Potemkin (1925) wasn’t seen in the UK until 1929 when it was double-billed with John Grierson’s Drifters (1929). On 5 November 2012 the BFI will bring the films together again, released in a Dual Format Edition (DVD and Blu-ray discs), in The Soviet Influence strand, featuring a new restoration of Battleship Potemkin and the High Definition debut of Drifters.

The London Film Society’s screening of Battleship Potemkin and Drifters on Sunday 10 November 1929, at the Tivoli cinema in the Strand, is the most celebrated double-bill in film history. The BBFC had banned Battleship Potemkin and did not officially classify it (with an ‘X’ certificate) until 1954, almost 30 years after it was made.

Drifters heralded the birth of a movement that dominated British film culture for decades. Commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board, the film followed a herring drifter from departure in Scotland to market in East Anglia. John Grierson had previously overseen an English language version of Battleship Potemkin for its American release and Eisenstein’s influence is clearly shown, both in his own film and in many of those that followed under his watchful eye at the GPO Film Unit.

The restoration of Battleship Potemkin is presented with the 1926 Edmund Meisel score. For Drifters, the BFI commissioned the innovative British composer/performer Jason Singh. All of the sounds and textures in this evocative new score have been created vocally by Singh and manipulated using effects, hardware samplers and software.

Also included in this edition are three classic films made by the GPO Film Unit: Granton Trawler (John Grierson, 1934), Trade Tattoo (Len Lye, 1937) and North Sea (Harry Watt, 1938).

The full list of features is as follows...

  • 1.33:1 / silent, with Russian intertitles and English subtitles + English intertitles
  • Disc 1: BD50 / 1080p / PCM 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo audio
  • Disc 2: DVD9 / PAL / Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (448 kbps) and 2.0 stereo audio (320 kbps)
  • All films presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
  • Battleship Potemkin presented in a new restoration by Film Museum Berlin and partners, accompanied by the 1926 Edmund Merisel score
  • Drifters presented in new HD transfer, tinted and toned as originally intended, with a score by Jason Singh
  • Grantor Trawler (John Grierson, 1934, 11 mines): Grierson’s follow up to Drifters, one of the GPO Film Unit’s first experiments with sound
  • Trade Tattoo (Len Lye, 1937, 6 mins): celebratory animation made from off -cuts of EMB and GPO Film Unit films, including Drifters and Night Mail
  • North Sea (Harry Watt, 1938, 32 mins): dramatic reconstruction of sea farers’ battle with the elements, produced by the GPO Film Unit
  • Illustrated booklet with extensive film and restoration credits and essays by Henry K Miller, Patrick Russell and Michael Brooke

A screening of Drifters with live score performed by Jason Singh will take place at BFI Southbank on Monday 5 November. Visit for more.


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