#23 Festival memories

Documentary 47, Programme for the first Edinburgh International Film Festival, 1947 (ref. H3.P3)

On the afternoon of Sunday 31 August 1947 the First International Festival of Documentary Films opened at The Playhouse, Leith Walk, Edinburgh. Over the following week it screened a comprehensive selection of films from around the world at a number of venues across the city. The focus on documentary was explained in the introduction to the festival programme as follows:

It is only fitting that Britain’s first International Film Festival should be devoted entirely to Documentary for it is in this medium that Britain has made its greatest and most characteristic contribution to cinema.

The University of Stirling Archives holds the papers of two of the key figures involved in the establishment and development of the festival, John Grierson (the ‘father of documentary film’) and Forsyth Hardy (author of Slightly Mad and Full of Dangers – the Story of the Edinburgh Film Festival). The Documentary 47 programme includes articles written by Grierson and Hardy in which they assessed the current state of British documentary and presented the festival as an international survey of films which they hoped would spark a reconsideration and reassessment of the documentary movement.

John Grierson & Forsyth Hardy at the first Edinburgh Film Festival, August 1947.

Reflecting on the first festival in his 1992 book Slightly Mad and Full of Dangers, Hardy recalled

There were enthusiastic audiences for the films. They opened windows on Europe, and lands beyond, long befogged by war… the excitement generated was genuine and gratifying. With a mixture of hope and ambition Edinburgh had reached out to the world’s filmmakers and their response was stimulating.

In the seventy years since its first screenings the festival has moved beyond its documentary roots to provide an annual celebration of all aspects of cinema. This year its 70th anniversary celebrations include archive screenings and a city-wide exhibition reflecting on seventy years of the festival.

Documentary 47. Cover of first Edinburgh International Film Festival programme.

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