The IAC “World Tour of Prizewinning Films” (1932-1934)
Programme curated by Keith M. Johnston
“The first world tour of amateur films ever attempted commenced last autumn, and when completed four British films, one Spanish, one Austrian, and one Japanese will have been seen in Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary, South Africa, Kenya Colony, Bombay, Simla, Deccan, Madras, Burma, Penang, Philippines, Shanghai, New Zealand, U.S.A., British Guiana, Australia, Japan, and Portugal… It is estimated that on the conclusion of the world tour… 250,000 persons will have seen the prize-winning films.” (“The Importance of Sub-standard Films for Competitive Purposes”, The IAC Bulletin, October 1936, pp. 24-26)
Amateur films rarely get the acclaim, attention, or archival focus of their better-known feature-film cousin. While much of the first decades of cinema could be described as “amateur”, the 1920s saw a more precise demarcation emerge between the commercial mainstream industry and the non-professional hobbyist world of the amateur filmmaker. Across different national contexts, individual “lone” filmmakers, small family-led teams, and more organized groups of filmmakers began to produce short films across a range of different genres and approaches. Initially utilizing 35mm before moving to the sub-standard formats of 9.5mm and 16mm (introduced by Pathé and Kodak respectively), these amateur filmmakers and cine-clubs both mimicked the mainstream industry and departed from it in their explorations of the artistic and experimental possibilities of sub-standard short-film production.
During the late 1920s and through the 1930s, while some amateur filmmakers and cine-clubs were early adopters of new technology (colour film, widescreen, synchronized sound systems), their films represent an extension of the “silent” film era well into the 1940s and 1950s. Their enthusiastic and varied explorations of the stylistic opportunities of silent film formats ranged across different forms and genres: animation, comedy, documentary, drama, ethnography, experimental, home movies, and travelogues.
In different country contexts, new filmmaking groups sprang up with the intention of pulling together the different national amateur traditions. These included likes of the American Amateur Film League, the German Amateur League, Vienna’s Klub der Kino-Amateure, the National Society of Sweden’s Amateur Filmmakers, Japan’s Sakura Kogata Eigo Kyokai (Cherry Amateur Movie Society), and the film sections of the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya (Catalan Excursionist Centre) and the Zagreb Photo Club. These initiatives often took the form of international competitions, the sharing of films across cine-clubs, or the creation of international congresses that would ultimately inform the creation of the Union Internationale du Cinéma d’Amateur (UNICA) in the mid-1930s.
The UK-based Institute of Amateur Cinematographers (IAC) was formed in September 1932, arising out of earlier societies that had attempted to create a UK-wide network of film clubs. Creating a filmmaking competition was central to the IAC’s desire to celebrate and showcase the best amateur filmmaking, with international entries sought from the very beginning. In 1935, the IAC decided to launch a major initiative, the World Tour of Prizewinning Films. This World Tour package emerged from a successful UK amateur film distribution network model, where film packages were sent around individual cine-clubs, with each club posting the package on to the next recipient. The World Tour, initially intended to showcase the IAC’s 1934 film competition award-winners, was expanded to include three prize-winners from the 1933 competition. The reasons for this currently remain lost to time, although the expanded list of seven films did allow for a broader range of nations to be represented, and, perhaps incidentally rather than intentionally, included the contributions of two UK-based women filmmakers, Ruth Stuart and Agnes Thubron (working with her husband John Thubron). Although the IAC competition featured the work of women filmmakers, and women were members of many cine-clubs, the UK amateur community remained patriarchal in structure; the inclusion of these two filmmakers remains a notable one.
Arranged in conjunction with cine-clubs across the globe, the World Tour commenced in Belgrade in November 1935. Featuring seven IAC award-winning films, the IAC saw the tour as a way of “strengthening the links of friendship between the nations”. The programme represented a snapshot of the breadth of filmmaking styles and genres open to the amateur. From the available evidence, these seven films spent over four years travelling across Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia, including screenings at clubs in South Africa, India, the Philippines, China, Japan, and New Zealand. The IAC distributed screening instructions with the World Tour films that included the preferred ordering of the films (replicated in our programme); although none of these instructions remain, it is likely they contained suggestions for recorded musical accompaniment. In December 1939 the touring copies were donated to the Australian Amateur Cine Society. As Sydney-based amateur filmmaker James A. Sherlock reported, the copies had succumbed to the tell-tale signs of repeated projection, leaving them “brittle and [without] leaders and end titles in some cases”. However, Sherlock reassured the IAC that the films “will be in quite respectable condition with a little treatment.”
This 2022 recreation of the IAC World Tour has been curated to commemorate the IAC’s 90th anniversary. It arises out of research conducted for the academic-curatorial project “International Amateur Cinema between the Wars, 1919-1939”, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Additional funding and support for the digitization of these seven films was provided by the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers, the East Anglian Film Archive, the Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola (EQZE) in San Sebastián, and the Filmoteca de Catalunya, Barcelona. The new scans of these films reveal different views of the world that can include imperial or colonial assumptions (see the film notes below), but they also show the creative possibilities explored by these 1930s amateur filmmakers.
Keith M. Johnston
Selezione film/Programme selection: Enrique Fibla-Gutierrez, Paul Frith, Keith M. Johnston. Consulenti/Advisory team: Andrea Mariani, Charles Tepperman. Supervisione restauri/Restorations supervised by: Peter White, Rosa Cardona. Curatore/Curated by Keith M. Johnston.
TO EGYPT AND BACK WITH IMPERIAL AIRWAYS (GB, 1931-32)
regia/dir, scen: Ruth Stuart. copia/copy: DCP, 17’46” (da/from 16mm, 400 ft., 16 fps); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: East Anglian Film Archive, Norwich, UK.
Ruth Stuart was something of a filmmaking prodigy, filming this travelogue of her trip to Egypt when she was only 16 years old. Travelling unaccompanied, with her parents allegedly unaware of the trip, this was Stuart’s second film, and one for which she asked the IAC for advice on gauging exposure. The film captures the sights and experiences of 1930s air travel and the sights of Egypt, with the occasional hint of British imperial attitudes on display. The film won a gold medal at the 1933 American Cinematographer Amateur Movie Contest, the “Novel” (i.e., new film of interest) prize at the 1933 Paris Concord (the Third International Contest of amateur filmmakers, held in Paris that year), and the IAC award, beginning Stuart’s run of award-winning productions through the 1930s.
Keith M. Johnston
WESTMINSTER IN WINTER (GB 1932)
regia/dir, scen: Matthew L. Nathan. copia/copy: DCP, 11’40” (da/from 16mm, 280 ft., 16 fps); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: East Anglian Film Archive, Norwich, UK.
An early 1930s documentary which captures the sights of Westminster, including the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge, St. James’s Park, and London’s West End. Writing for the IAC Bulletin in January 1934, its filmmaker, Matthew L. Nathan, emphasized the need for variety in documentary production, in part so that the audience doesn’t notice “errors of construction and treatment”. A London-based lawyer, Nathan was a well-known figure in British amateur film circles with his other IAC award-winning travelogues An Austrian Village (1933) and Venice (1934).
Keith M. Johnston
HER SECOND BIRTHDAY (GB 1932)
regia/dir, scen: Agnes & John B. Thubron. cast: June Thubron. copia/copy: DCP, 5’33” (da/from 16mm, 250 ft., 16 fps); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: East Anglian Film Archive, Norwich, UK.
TRANSPORT (GB 1933)
regia/dir, scen: Agnes & John B. Thubron. copia/copy: DCP, 10’15” (da/from 16mm, 250 ft., 16 fps); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: East Anglian Film Archive, Norwich, UK.
Many amateur filmmaking teams featured wife-and-husband pairs such as this multiple award-winning partnership. Agnes Thubron has noted that Her Second Birthday started life as a “domestic record” of a visit from their granddaughter (who lived in India) and was never intended for competition. It was only after an initial roll of film was processed and viewed that they imagined filming additional shots and adding stop-motion animation for the toys. As such it offers both a view of 1930s family or home-movie filming and early amateur animation.
The couple’s second film, Transport, offers views of different modes of transport around the world, captured on various trips to South Africa, India, and back to England. Given the Thubrons’ class and status, the film offers a particular worldview of the different countries and peoples Britain had colonized, but nevertheless manages to capture significant national differences in the availability and issues of mass and individual transportation. The most popular of the seven World Tour films at the 1936 Vienna screening, Transport was described as “a real amateur film in the best meaning of the word”.
Keith M. Johnston
MEMMORTIGO? [Suicidio?/Suicide?] (ES 1934)
regia/dir, scen: Delmiro de Caralt. copia/copy: DCP, 13’54” (da/from 16mm, 386 ft., 18 fps); senza did./no titles. fonte/source: Filmoteca de Catalunya, Barcelona.
This experimental film exploring pessimism and optimism was the product of Delmiro de Caralt i Puig (1901-1990), a leading avant-garde filmmaker and thinker who introduced amateur film to Spain in the 1920s, and founded the Biblioteca Delmiro de Caralt film collection (now part of the Filmoteca de Catalunya’s Biblioteca del Cinema/Cinema Library). As well as winning an IAC Award, the film (whose title is in Esperanto) also received an Honorable Mention at the 1934 American Cinematographer Amateur Movie Makers Contest.
Keith M. Johnston
EIN SOMMER GEHT ZU ENDE [Ultimi giorni d’estate/Last Days of Summer] (AT 1933)
regia/dir, scen: Hans Figura. copia/copy: DCP, 9’18” (da/from 16mm, orig. 282 ft., 16 fps); did./titles: GER. fonte/source: East Anglian Film Archive, Norwich, UK.
Professor Hans Figura was a Vienna-based filmmaker and member of that city’s Klub der Kino-Amateure organization. This gentle documentary follows two children as they play in and around the landscape of the Danube, before reluctantly returning to school. Due to the presence of some sensitive material this film has been edited from its original running time (owing to modern sensibilities, after some discussion the archive decided to cut a very short but physically revealing sequence of the two young girls removing their clothes on the beach).
Keith M. Johnston
SISTER (JP 1933)
regia/dir, scen: Kichinosuke Takeuchi. cast: Ayako (la sorella/sister), Seizo (l’amico del defunto fratello/her late brother’s friend). copia/copy: DCP, 17’34” (da/from 16mm, 426 ft., 16 fps); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: East Anglian Film Archive, Norwich, UK.
Kichinosuke Takeuchi was an active amateur filmmaker in the Kansai region, contributing articles and screenplays to local amateur publications such as Bebī kinema (Baby Cinema) and Patē kinema (Pathé Cinema). Owner of a kimono store in Kyoto, Takeuchi also served on the boards of Kodak Nippon 8 miri Kyōkai (the Japan 8mm Film Association) and Nippon 8 miri Eiga Renmei (the Japan 8mm Film League). Sister is a drama focused on a sister’s love for her brother. It was submitted to the Institute of Amateur Cinematographer’s 1933 competition.
Keith M. Johnston