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Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years ago

From the beginning the main purpose of film societies was the screening of films, especially the historic "classics" which were not accessible to ordinary cinema patrons, and the many foreign films which did not achieve distribution through the normal commercial channels. Few such films were available when the societies began, and programmes during the first year consisted mainly of documentary and other short films, mostly obtained from the National Film Library of the Department of Education.


Late in 1946, three silent classics Wellington had ordered from the British Film Institute arrived in the country - and payment of air freight, although dispatch by air had not been requested, caused the Society to finish its first year of operation with a small financial loss.


The first of these classics, the famous Russian film, Battleship Potemkin, was screened at the first Annual General Meeting in the Town Hall Concert Chamber on October 21. The meeting was open to members and their friends, and the hall was very nearly full. An attempt was made to recapture the atmosphere of an early screening with a recorded musical accompaniment arranged by George Eiby. The other two classics, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Last Laugh, were first screened in December 1946 and March 1947 respectively.


At about the same time, the Auckland Film Society imported L'Idée and The Italian Straw Hat, and the National Film Library imported Film and Reality, Mother, and Nanook of the North, all of which were made available to the Wellington society. The Wellington films were also lent to other societies in New Zealand and, indeed, beyond. The Sydney Film Society sent an urgent request at the end of 1947 for the use of the Wellington society's films, and the Wellington print of Battleship Potemkin was given wide distribution in Australia.


After the creation of the N Z Film Institute, the societies which had imported films gave them to the new body for distribution to all affiliated societies, forming the nucleus of a PermanentFilmCollection which has grown steadily ever since. Some of these films - not as many as one would wish - are the permanent property of the film societies and may be screened at any time. Many more, restricted by complicated screening rights, are available for a limited period, usually about five years, so that the stock from which film societies can draw is constantly changing. In addition to the films imported for film society use, screenings were also arranged of films hired from commercial distributors or lent by foreign embassies and legations.


In the earliest years, historic classics were probably the greatest attraction, but with the number of more modern productions that have become available since then, the screening of classics have become fewer. They are still included in the annual programmes, however, because there are always new members who have not seen them.


Short films have always been an important part of the Society's programmes. They have included such famous documentaries as Night Mail (Basil Wright and Harry Watt), Drifters (John Grierson) , The Battle of San Pietro (John Huston), and The River (Pare Lorentz), such imaginative films as Bert Haanstra's Mirror of Holland and Glass, the evergreen Chaplin comedies, The Bank, The Pawnshop, and Easy Street. Special attention was given to the British Film Institute's series of films about films, such as the critical analyses of Odd Man Out, Twelve Angry Men, and 3.10 to Yuma.


Adapted from a special edition of Sequence, December 1966, edited by Laurie Lee.



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