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New Publication: British Women Amateur Filmmakers. National Memories and Global Identities.

On the publication of their book, British Women Amateur Filmmakers. National Memories and Global Identities, Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes and Heather Norris Nicholson give an exclusive insight into the writing and research undertaken for WFTHN members.


As taboos and patriarchal structures receded in the early twentieth century, societal and geo-political changes enabled, or required, women to live, work and behave differently from their predecessors.  More women became involved in amateur film production, both during the two decades following the First World War, when recreational filmmaking gained popularity as a costly hobby, and then again following the Second World War. At home and abroad, their self-expression and social purpose found fresh outlets via amateur filmmaking. Access to cine equipment, via family, friends and interest groups, enabled women to engage with film production in and away from where they lived and worked. Our book examines how and where British women amateur filmmakers produced and showed their films, what those experiences reveal about the women holding the cameras and the profoundly-changing twentieth century world they captured on film.

The book contextualises those early British amateur filmmakers’ experiences within their national and late colonial settings and then explores how it is possible to trace this activity through the twentieth-century: from these ‘reel’ pioneers to their successors, the digital amateur media makers of today. Our research revealed how they have been an often under-represented and undifferentiated presence within amateur film studies literature.

Through the prism of amateur cine/media practice, defined as the making and interpretation of films for personal and wider non-commercial use, we explore the impact of social, cultural and technological change on women’s lives. The study draws directly on archival evidence of women’s own capacity to film and the subject matter captured by their cinematic gaze. Their non-fiction footage is the main focus, although their involvement in other genres, particularly animation, is also considered, as is their significant contribution to club activities within the amateur film movement in Britain and elsewhere.   

figure 8.1 her second birthday

Figure 1: Still frame from K. Agnes Thubron: ‘Her Second Birthday’ (1932-3). © EAFA.

Their non-fiction films, in particular, tell a story about how they negotiated and documented social change as they cine-narrated their own lives and those of others through their cameras. Recovering these neglected endeavours expands our understanding of women’s amateur visual practice during decades that also saw professional production opportunities slowly opening for women. Indeed, early promotional materials suggest that, as from the earliest years of large-scale cinema production, women were involved not only as performers but also possibly as users of amateur cinematographic equipment within documentary production (Marion and Ruby Grierson, Evelyn Spice, Kay Mander, Jill Craigie), animation (Joy Batchelor) and educational broadcasting (Mary Field). Most importantly, successive generations of cine-women such as Eleanore Dalyell, Rosie Newman, Barbara Donaldson, Beryl Armstrong, Audrey Lewis and Wilma Gladstone filmed during decades when national boundaries and identities were transformed by war and independence movements within the British Empire.Their filmmaking also occured as Britain’s self-assurance at home and in the wider world was giving way to new national uncertainties and domestic preoccupations, visible in Ellaline Jennings’ adolescent school girls visiting the Lake District in the early postwar years or Kathleen Lockwood’s poignant record of industrial decline in northern England during the 1970s.

Evolving visual literacies surface through each successive generation as they experimented with the novelty of capturing movement on film. Their use of camera and sometimes their subsequent editing of the footage indicate their fascination with sustained focus and also their willingness to create the ‘longer look’ rather than merely ‘point and shoot’. Many women, like Lucy Fairbanks, Beryl Armstrong, Kathleen Lockwood, Sheila Graber, Rosie Newman or Audrey Lewis, explored trick photography, early colour film stock, reversals, stop motion, animation and slow-motion techniques.

As with the gender politics that underpin much of women’s storytelling, other political concerns inform their narratives. Undoubtedly, for some filmmakers, a specific political moment or occasion was precisely the impetus to film, and their unique cinematic gaze as bystanders to the action are now particularly significant. No one featured in the book directly filmed activists’ placards, though perhaps Rosie Newman’s brief scene filmed at the Chawpatty beach in Bombay (Mumbai) in the early 1930s, or Wilma Gladstone’s films of Ghana’s independence celebrations in 1957 indicate more nuanced recordings of anti-imperial protests and emerging postcolonial national identities. However, it appears that women amateur filmmakers were often fully aware of wider issues and, depending on where they were – whether as the wife of a civil servant or missionary during a posting overseas – their amateur films of apparently mundane scenes of family life could also include rare historical, visual testimonies. This is demonstrated by one amateur filmmaker’s choice to film friends picnicking in the English countryside with Enoch Powell, one of the most controversial figures in Britain’s post-war race relations history. Status and ideology, therefore, subtly determined subjects and sequences shot by women wherever they were living in later imperial or newly independent countries, in England’s home counties, as Scottish aristocrats or as teachers in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.

figure 1.2 mrs movie maker from biokam manual

Figure 2: Photograph from an early Biokam Manual ( c.1899). Reproduced from Amateur Movie Maker (1961) © Amateur Cine Enthusiast.

Our book presents and analyses amateur films made by over forty British women whose productions  span over eighty years, and acts as an initial survey of the films available and of their specific visual literacy. Their hobbyist practice, historically underexplored, has emerged in our study as highly-nuanced and multi-facetted.  These women filmmakers constructed a subtler range of cultural and oppositional identities; took the opportunity to migrate artistically from fixed and established social networks; to experience personal rites of passage and to build new, self-empowering roles as producers of global culture. Our analysis, therefore, goes beyond interrogating the visible in different parts of Britain, during international travel or in a postcolonial world order. Instead, these women amateurs’ films testify to their own creativity and agency, by what they valued in their surroundings and how they sought to share their beliefs with the world. We have begun to uncover their rich, unique legacy, both as social documentary and as part of a more inclusive cultural history of women’s filmmaking practice.

Notes to Figures:

1.  Figure 1: K. Agnes Thubron is one of the early filmmakers discussed in the book and the earliest woman amateur animator we have found during our research. EAFA stands for East Anglian Film Archive.

2.  The caption for Figure 2 reads: ‘Mrs Movie-Maker of 1989.  This illustration is reproduced from the instruction book of the Biokam which first appeared in that year and is believed to be the first amateur movie camera. Note the hand crank and the use of a tripod!’

Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes is an Affiliated Lecturer in new and amateur media at the Department of Social Anthropology, an Affiliated Scholar at the Centre of South Asian Studies, a Member of the Cambridge Digital Humanities Network, and Fellow and Tutor at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. Her work as a visual anthropologist relies primarily on imperial history and gender studies. 

Dr Heather Norris Nicholson holds honorary research positions at the University of Huddersfield and also at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has encouraged archival, scholarly and popular interest in amateur film and independent forms of non-fiction film-making for decades through writing, teaching and community outreach.


EVENT: Advancing Gender Equal Media: Challenges, Strategies and DIY Culture

On behalf of Karen Ross, an event of interest to WFTHN members:

Advancing Gender Equal Media: Challenges, Strategies and DIY Culture26 February 2019 | 1430-1730 | Press Club Brussels 

The problem of women’s unequal access to and representation in mainstream media is not new and research studies focused on the European media industry over at least the past 30 years, including work commissioned by EU institutions, have demonstrated the challenges women face in developing a career in the media and being represented in ways which reflect their lived experience. In 1995, the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing and from that gathering, the Beijing Platform for Action emerged as a global call to eradicate gender equality from society: one of the critical areas of concern identified was the media. In the same year, the first Global Media Monitoring Project took place which monitored how women and men appeared in news media around the globe. Every five years since the BPfA, reviews have been undertaken to see how far the original ambitions have been met, along with various ad hoc studies undertaken by NGOs, EU institutions and civil society organisations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, each review and new piece of research finds that although there has been progress, it is slow and uncoordinated, so further indicators are developed, further strategies written. Both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe have produced research and recommendations around gender equality and the media: media organisations have been active in developing internal initiatives to support women’s careers or designed actions to monitor gender-bias in content, but they rarely tell anyone else about them. Civil society organisations and individuals have also been active over the past few years and, impatient for a gender-equal future, have been working hard to bring the issue to public attention through the use of digital platforms and hashtag activism such as #metoo and #timesup. However, despite all this good work, the goal of achieving gender equality in the media remains elusive, not least because there are no mechanisms through which to promote the good practices which have been initiated.

That is, no mechanisms until now!

We are pleased to invite you to the launch of the AGEMI  (Advancing Gender Equality in Media Industries) project and web platform where you can find a range of useful resources focused on aspects of gender equality, including a Resources Bank of (around 100) Good Practices and learning resources which include mini-lectures and filmed interviews with media practitioners on topics such as representation, culture, policy, advocacy and leadership. Gender issues are rarely included as a specific aspect of journalism training so AGEMI is addressing this absence. AGEMI has also piloted two activities to build links between students and the world of work through its summer school and internships. We believe that including such activities as part of media education encourages gender-sensitivity amongst the next generation of journalists and thus has the potential to influence the wider media landscape.

As well as demonstrating the AGEMI platform, we will also hear from a range of stakeholders about the work they are doing to challenge gender inequality in the media.We believe this kind of knowledge exchange is both necessary and timely, particularly in advance of the Beijing+25 review which will take place in 2020 with the aim of informing the implementation and raising awareness of the gender-media dimensions of the 2030 gender-equality agenda. We hope you can join us to celebrate the launch of this much-needed new resource and engage in a productive dialogue and we hope to see you in Brussels.

The event is free but please register here by 19 February 2019.

For further information, please contact Karen Ross

DRAFT SCHEDULE for the launch (subject to change)

14:30 – welcome refreshments
14:40 – welcome and brief background to AGEMI
14:50 – policy discussion #1 – European Parliament (speaker tbc)
15:10 – media industry discussion #1 – Safia Kessas, RTBF (Belgian public service broadcaster)
15:30 – policy discussion #2 – Council of Europe, Gender Equality Division (speaker tbc)
15:50 – break
16:10 – demonstration of AGEMI platform
16:40 – researching gender equality and media – Maria Edstrom, University of Gothenburg
16:50 – policy discussion #3 – European Women’s Lobby (speaker tbc)
17:10 – media industry discussion #2 – Martine Simonsis (AJP)
17:30 – close/drinks reception

Conference Report: Women and New Hollywood, Maynooth University (May 2018)

Fjoralba Miraka shares some key insights into the debates during the Women and New Hollywood Conference at Maynooth University in May 2018. What questions do the current histories of New Hollywood raise for feminist scholars of this period of cinema history – and for feminist historians more generally?

These names are important to note, because each of these careers helped to create a path for future female filmmakers to follow. These women of the 1960s and 1970s knocked on that glass ceiling, and though it was tough to break through it, they ended up inspiring a whole new generation waiting in the wings, ready for their shot
(Alicia Malone, Backwards and in Heels, 2017, pp.124-5).

When Maynooth University announced its Call for Papers for the Women and New Hollywood conference to be held on 29-30 May 2018 I thought to myself this is fantastic news! With my own research focus on Women and the so-called ‘movie brats’ (Pye and Miles, 1984) in the age of Hollywood Renaissance, this was the place to be, not only because it was clearly close to my research interests but also because it was the first conference of its kind: exploring the roles of women film practitioners in an age that has invariable been considered as male-driven and male-dominated,. Interestingly, this conference came almost a year after one dedicated to The American New Wave, at Bangor University (July 2017), a conference in which, as I pointed out in my report on that event, overtly raised the issue of the lack of women actively involved in film during the Hollywood Renaissance era. These two conferences are divided by the rise of activism against abuses in the film industry, namely the #metoo and #timesup movements; they still share, from an academic perspective, an interest in revising the established historical narratives of the 1970s film culture.

2018 saw various events employing different perspectives on the past, such as A Different Picture: Women Filmmakers in the New Hollywood Era, 1967-1980, (May 2018) a BAMcinematiek series which established its aim to: ‘correct a historical wrong’ and to provide ‘a counternarrative to the traditional macho mythology of the New Hollywood era’; the 2018 Doing Women’s Film and Television History (DWFTH-IV) conference offered a well-informed, feminist account of women and film in national and international contexts; and Artists and Activists: Second Wave Feminist Filmmakers (June 2018) at the Barbican Centre, ‘a weekend of films from the American Women’s Movement of the 1970s’, curated by the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television. The significance of this ‘wave’ of historical revisionism is twofold: for historians, it demonstrates the wealth of a flourishing film culture since the late 1960s onwards which has been somehow omitted from the film canon or current film histories; and, for practitioners, it creates the necessary context for new generations of women practitioners to draw inspiration from a film tradition of their own.
Amidst such an atmosphere, ‘Women and New Hollywood’ drew attention to the unprecedented number of women in Hollywood production in the late 60s and 70so and sought to bring their stories out of the shadows of masculine auteurist film criticism that has arguably dominated film culture for decades. Panels on adaptation and stardom, historiography, New Hollywood’s end and legacy, as well as on individual women, such as Jay Presson Allen and Barbara Loden, made up the main corpus of the conference.

It started with a powerful message from the opening keynote speaker Amelie Hastie, which sought to offer the alternative story of women’s engagement with film culture to the mainstream story of masculine New Hollywood. Her presentation foreshadowed many of the following talks and discussions, challenging the understanding of the history of New Hollywood as the history of film directors; instead, Hastie’s presentation decentred authorship to relocate the creative genius in the figures of stars, screenwriters, producers, or the collaborations between directors/writers/actors, etc.

Decolonising film history from auteurist preoccupations, as well as opening up the meaning of the word auteur to incorporate the vast creative presence within the filmmaking, is a useful and effective methodological tool for revisiting and reshaping film historiography. In a her keynote presentation titled: ‘All the Wrong Lessons – New Hollywood and Contemporary Auteurism’, Julie Turnock emphasised that this is a decisive step towards learning the right lessons from the past and teaching the right lessons in the future.

The main lesson from this conference was the attention to the decades-long women’s invisibility in film culture as a symptom of a symptom of sexism in the industry. Working through the example of New Hollywood, the conference overall brought strong evidence that a continual devaluing the stories of and about women as well as their work, as opposed to men’s, has taken place. Susan Liddy made this the main point of her presentation on gender and the Irish film industry, pointing out the universal truth that women struggle to be visible and suggesting that the right questions need to be asked in order for the record to be corrected and the history books to be revised.

In my experience of inter-conference conversations this year regarding historical revisionism and methodology, the title of the conference itself demonstrates where we are in terms of feminist scholarship. At DWFTH-IV this year, Yvonne Tasker’s problematised ‘the currently inescapable logic of women and…’ as a paradigm to discuss film history. This resonated with the title of Maynooth’s conference: ‘Women and New Hollywood’, which suggests that we still find these kinds of discursive paradigms for women’s filmmaking necessary. This is because the record has not been set straight yet and the canon has not been ‘fixed’. However, having said that, our times – and these conferences – suggest that we are on the right path toward this end.

I wish to thank Maynooth University, the organisers Aaron Hunter and Martha Shearer, the keynote speakers Amelie Hastie and Julie Turnock as well as all the presenters and attendees for this great opportunity to revisit one of the most influential eras of American film history with a very fresh perspective.

Fjoralba Miraka is a research student at Roehampton University and teaching associate, with a research focus on Women and the Movie Brats in the era of Hollywood Renaissance. She holds an MA degree in American Literature and Culture and a BA degree in English Language and Philology, both from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. She has presented in national and international conferences, and received the Arthur Smith Memorial Scholarship, awarded by the Fran Trust, for her participation in the Women and New Hollywood conference, Maynooth University, Ireland. She occasionally contributes essays at the WFTHN blog and writes film reviews of Albanian films for the online magazine Sbunker


Malone, A. (2017) Backwards and in Heels.The Past, Present And Future Of Women Working In Film. Coral Gables, FL, USA : Mango Publishing.
Pye, M. & Miles, L. (1979) The Movie Brats: How the Film Generation Took over Hollywood. (London: Faber and Faber).

The 10th Women and the Silent Screen Conference: 25-28 May 2019: SISTERS! – Proposal Extension & Keynote Announcement

On behalf of Women and Film History International and Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The 10th Women and the Silent Screen Conference hosted by the 5th Eye International Conference: Sisters!

We are proud to announce our keynote speakers:

Prof. Jacqueline Stewart: a professor at the Department of Cinema and Media Studies of the University of Chicago. Her research and teaching explore African-American film cultures from the origins of the medium to the present. Stewart’s research topics also include the archiving and preservation of moving images, and “orphan” media histories, including nontheatrical, amateur, and activist film and video.

Dr. Annette Förster: a media historian and film curator who specializes in women in film history. Förster was among the initiators of the first Women and the Silent Screen Conference which took place in Utrecht in 1999. Her acclaimed book Women in the Silent Cinema. Histories of Fame and Fate (Amsterdam University Press) was published in 2017.

Extension of deadline:

The deadline for the call for proposals has been extended to 7th December 10:00 am (CET). The committee looks forward to receiving your proposals at conference@eyefilm.nl.

More information on the CfP here: https://www.eyefilm.nl/en/call-for-papers-eye-international-conference-2019


British Women Documentary Filmmakers 1930-1955: 5th April 2019

Posted on behalf of the symposium organisers.

Proposals are invited for a one-day symposium to be held at the London School of Economics on 5th April 2019. A pdf version of the call for papers can be found here.

As the work of filmmakers including Jill Craigie, Kay Mander and Marion Grierson testify, women have played a significant part in the early decades of British documentary and informational filmmaking. Women were a vital part of the war effort and this was apparent in the films made by the Ministry of Information as well as newsreels, documentaries and dramas. Women also worked behind the camera as directors, editors and scriptwriters on instructional and propaganda films. Yet much early British documentary history on Grierson and the Documentary Movement tends to elide the ways in which non-canonical works engage differently with questions of the nation, gender, class and identity and the ways in which form and content are linked to context of production.

This one-day symposium seeks to deepen understanding of women’s creative presence in British documentary filmmaking. Papers may explore individual films and filmmakers, as well as the industrial, social and historical contexts in which they worked. While WWII has been foregrounded in accounts of women’s participation in British film production, the day will consider a longer historical period including the innovations in documentary of the 1930s and the changing industry of the post-war period.

Topics and questions might include:

  • Women working within informational filmmaking
  • New approaches to women and non-fiction filmmaking in wartime and/or post-war period
  • How do emerging accounts of women’s role in the industry reshape standard accounts of documentary?
  • What can individual careers tell us about the obstacles and opportunities faced by women in the sector at different times within the period?
  • Does the study of women’s participation in film problematize dominant conceptions of ‘talent’, creativity and authorship?
  • The impact of distribution and reception on historical awareness of films by women
  • How can wider histories of women’s work during World War inform studies of women’s labour in film?
  • Feminist film historiographies and documentary film-making
  • Emerging methodologies for constructing women’s film histories

Please email abstracts of 300-500 words, 3-5 keywords and up to 5 key references to: gender@lse.ac.uk Deadline for submissions is 17.00 on 1 November 2018.

Please note:

  • The abstract should be in word format as an attachment with your Surname and Initials as the file name and please make sure you put BWDF in the subject line.
  • Please also include a 100 word bio.
  • Please include your NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS AND INSTITUTION (if any) on the proposal/abstract itself.
  • Any queries please contact: Kate Steward steward@lse.ac.uk

We will respond to submissions by 30th November 2018.

The symposium is funded by as part of the project, Jill Craigie: Film Pioneer, led by Lizzie Thynne (PI, University of Sussex) with Yvonne Tasker (Co-I, University of East Anglia) and Sadie Wearing (Co-I, LSE). We anticipate producing a journal issue from selected papers.