Before I really delved into the great array of films available at the North East Film Archive’s (NEFA) website, I originally assumed that most of the short films in the collection would in some form or another range from silent, unimaginatively produced, amateur observations of quotidian life to professionally constructed documents of historical events (as we have seen in the previous post), films that would be of little interest to most audiences, and would need a great deal of editing before presentation. Of course as it turns out, such an assumption was profoundly misguided and indeed a great insult to the breadth of NEFA’s holdings.
So far I have come across adverts for 8mm movie cameras entitled ‘Movies for You’, ‘Cut to Perfection’ a 1970s promotional film for menswear brand Jackson the Tailor, ‘Approach to Safe Cycling’ an educational film which aims to instruct children in the principles of safe cycling in Middlesborough, 16mm footage of the 1984 Miner’s Strike at Easington Colliery, County Durham, ‘Pilgrimage to Holy Island’ a silent era newsreel nearly destroyed by the ravages of time and ‘Christmas 1954 and 1958’, two films Tyneside Cinema regulars will recognise (excerpts from these films followed pre-film adverts and trailers over the Christmas period). While the quality and interest of such shorts is undeniable, I do in fact have other favourites, films which I would think would be of interest to most North Easterners too.
‘Among the blackening coalfields, the noisy shipyards and factories, this hardly seems the place to look for an oasis of quiet and peace’ declares the narrator of Jesmond Dene a 1951 promotional film by Walter Reeve, which begins by contrasting the lush, green spaces of Lord Armstrong’s Jesmond Dene with the black, industrial city it finds itself within. For Walter Reeve, Jesmond Dene offers natural scenery, a sanctuary for birds, a place for dalliance and quiet recollection, as well as the park spaces, farms, cafes and restaurants familiar to contemporary visitors of the park. This film offers not only a history of the Dene and an exploration of its topological features, but has a certain magic, images which recall European films of the period. In the end, it does in fact appear surprising that such a space resides in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Northumberland – A New Life is one of the more modern films of NEFA’s collection. In some respects this film from 1970 follows a similar blueprint to Jesmond Dene, promoting Northumberland as a place of interest to those who have no knowledge of its magnificence, yet, while Jesmond Dene functions as an information film, geared towards tourists and those visiting the North East, Northumberland – A New Life is crafted with the explicit intention of encouraging newcomers to move to England’s most northern county. Following a history of Northumberland coupled with picturesque vistas, the film offers three case studies of families who have recently moved to the area.
A plane arrives and the film takes us to Whitley Bay Beach, where the Richardson family, who have just moved from Canada, are playing. Soon the film shifts to Killingworth, highlighting the once radical and futuristic architecture, today viewed from a 21st century perspective as unsightly, of the newly created township, before centring on the Target family, who have moved here from Nottingham. Next the film offers images of Cramlington and Morpeth, contrasting the modern housing estates of the former with the historic buildings of the latter, before focusing in on Ponteland, a place that Londoner’s will come to recognise as a quaint village on ‘the stockbroker belt’ at least according to our trusty narrator. Finally, following impressive images of Bamburgh Castle and Seaton Delaval Hall, the film centres on the Randall Family, who have built their own home in the Tyne Valley near Hexham. And if country life does not suit your taste, we are told, there is always Newcastle-upon-Tyne, capital of Northumberland, not only one of Britain’s finest shopping cities, but a place that has the best nightlife outside London.
When I watched Ferry Journey Between Newcastle and North Shields a film from 1965, which offers the excursion alluded to in its title, although its organisation is far from straightforward, I imagined it with a hypnotic score, as an extended long take from a Russian art film – something about the filmmaking reminded me of Tarkovsky – as its content, the industrial shores of the Tyne, appears to have a dystopian, science fiction quality. When I awoke from my reverie – and realised that the film was made as a school project – I still found it difficult to accept the piece as anything other than the work of a Russian master, as a drawn out odyssey up a never ending river, with the filmmakers coming closer to madness with every bend of the Tyne.