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Land of Promise (BFI) in April

BFI have announced the UK DVD release of Land of Promise – The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950 on 28th April 2008 priced at £34.99. Featuring 40 films preserved in the BFI National Archive, this landmark BFI collection is the first major retrospective of the British documentary film movement during its period of greatest influence.

These films capture the spirit and strength, concerns and resolve of Britain and its people before, during and after the Second World War. Many of them are made available here for the first time since their original release.

Diverse and compelling, the films are fascinating historical documents, bearing witness to the social and industrial transformations of the rapidly changing world. Yet they are also striking in their different approach to the form. Using poetry, dramatic reconstruction, modernist techniques and explicit propaganda, the filmmakers found fresh, new ways to get their message across.

The collection (full listing below) contains both classic documentaries and lesser-known films, including Paul Rotha's Shipyard (1935), Arthur Elton's Housing Problems (1935) and Humphrey Jennings' Words for Battle (1941), Listen to Britain (1942), and the much-loved A Diary for Timothy (1946).

Among the many themes that the films cover are the experiences of ordinary people during the War, particularly the British housewife; health and child welfare; social housing; education reform and industrial development.


  • Close Up: Recollections of British documentary (40 mins) – new interviews with directors Pat Jackson, Peter Bradford, Peter Pickering and Paul Dickson, and with cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky
  • John Grierson at the NFT (1959, 13 mins)

The set is completed by a 96-page illustrated booklet* with introductory essays, biographies and notes on all of the films by leading researchers and scholars.

*We're told this is actually closer to a book and the set comes packaged in a hard box with the four discs housed in a fold out inner sleeve.

Complete film listing

Disc One

Industrial Britain (Robert Flaherty, 1931)
Shipyard (Paul Rotha, 1935)
Workers and Jobs (Arthur Elton, 1935)
Housing Problems (Arthur Elton, Edgar Anstey, 1935)
Children at School (Basil Wright, 1937)
Farewell Topsails (Humphrey Jennings, 1937)
Today We Live (Ruby Grierson, Ralph Bond, 1937)
Eastern Valley (Paul Rotha, Donald Alexander, 1937)
People of Britain (Paul Rotha, 1936)
If War Should Come (no director credited, 1939)

Disc Two

Britain at Bay (Harry Watt, 1940)
Transfer of Skill (Geoffrey Bell, 1940)
They Also Serve (Ruby Grierson, 1940)
Tomorrow is Theirs (James Carr, 1940)
Words for Battle (Humphrey Jennings, 1941)
Ordinary People (Jack Lee, J B Holmes, 1941)
Five and Under (Donald Alexander, 1941)
Night Shift (J D Chambers, 1942)
The Countrywomen (John Page, 1942)
Summer on the Farm (Ralph Keene, 1943)
Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings, Stewart McAllister, 1942)
Builders (Pat Jackson, 1942)
Words and Actions (Max Anderson, 1943)
A Diary for Timothy (Humphrey Jennings, 1946)

Disc Three

Land of Promise (Paul Rotha, 1946)
The Balance (Paul Rotha, 1947)
What a Life! (Michael Law, 1948)
The Dim Little Island (Humphrey Jennings, 1948)
Britain Can Make It (No 1) (Francis Gysin, 1946)
Fenlands (Ken Annakin, 1945)
Children’s Charter (Gerard Bryant, 1945)
Chasing the Blues (J D Chambers, Jack Ellitt, 1947)
Cotton Come Back (Donald Alexander, 1946)
Five Towns (Terry Bishop, 1947)

Disc Four

A Plan to Work On (Kay Mander, 1948)
Mining Review 2nd Year No 11 (Peter Pickering, 1949)
From the Ground Up (no director credited, 1950)
Transport (Peter Bradford, 1950)
The Undefeated (Paul Dickson, 1950)
Family Portrait (Humphrey Jennings, 1950)
Bonus features
John Grierson at the NFT (1959)
Close Up: Recollections of British documentary (2007)

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