The Camera is Ours: Britain's Women Documentary Makers

From the female pioneers in the 1930s to the rich contemporary scene, women documentarians tell a vibrant story.

ohn Grierson is sometimes referred to as the father of British documentary and is credited with coining the term ‘documentary’. However, from the outset there were pivotal female influences on the genre, including Grierson’s sisters Ruby and Marion. We’re delighted to showcase Ruby’s work alongside that of other pioneering documentary makers in many digital restorations from the BFI National Archive. These films are at the heart of the BFI’s project to raise the visibility of the women who’ve been making documentaries for almost 100 years. These are works that reveal the impact of war on families, examine housing conditions, expose barriers against inclusive societies: both then and now there are women on the frontline, telling stories.

- Ros Cranston, BFI National Archive curator


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Frida Kahlo & Tina ModottiFrida Kahlo & Tina Modotti

Animation & Artists Moving Image198330 mins

Immerse yourself in the work of Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti - icons of the Mexican Renaissance.

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Once We Were FourOnce We Were Four

Documentary19429 mins

Innocent bunnies face an onslaught of badgers, bombs and birds of prey in this black comedy masquerading as a nature film.

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Tunde's FilmTunde's Film

Documentary drama197440 mins Location: Stepney

Tired of being hassled by the police and with no job opportunities, a group of teenage East End lads plan to rob a bank.

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So This Is LondonSo This Is London

Documentary193314 minsSilent Location: Westminster

London at its best? This gorgeous lyrical portrait was made by pioneering female director Marion Grierson.

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Black to FrontBlack to Front

Current affairs197827 mins Location: Brixton

World in Action interviews the residents of Haycroft Road, Brixton as a controversial by-election stokes concerns about race and immigration.

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Spring on the FarmSpring on the Farm

Documentary19338 mins

The exhilaration of spring in the country – blossom, piglets, ducklings and more delights on the farm.

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Today We LiveToday We Live

Documentary193724 mins Location: South Cerney

A key social issues film documentary from the British Documentary Movement, this two-part film follows the establishment of social enterprises in England and Wales.

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Documentary19429 mins Location: Moulton

Is your hedge thin and straggly? Don't worry, help is at hand

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My River TyneMy River Tyne

Documentary19867 mins Location: South Shields

An unusual mix of pastel, photos, film and line drawings conjures a story of the River Tyne, from its source at the Scottish border to its mouth at South Shields.

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Never Go with StrangersNever Go with Strangers

Documentary197118 mins

Is this the scariest public information film ever? This hard-hitting warning against 'stranger danger' was considered too distressing to be broadcast on television.

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District NurseDistrict Nurse

Government sponsored film195227 mins Location: Wadhurst

Never a dull moment for a rural district nurse in the early days of the NHS.

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The Smoking MachineThe Smoking Machine

Documentary196416 mins

Documentary warning children about the drawbacks of cigarettes – not least their addictiveness.

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A Family Called AbrewA Family Called Abrew

Biopic199240 mins

Meet the Abrews, a unique showbiz family whose imprint on British culture began in Scotland in the 19th century

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Plan to Work OnPlan to Work On

Documentary194833 mins Location: Dunfermline

Kay Mander's film about the planning for Dunfermline’s post-war reconstruction is a fascinating record of the idealism of mid-20th-century town planning.

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Brighton StoryBrighton Story

Documentary195522 mins Location: Brighton

A ghost of Brighton's Regency past returns to explore his old haunts in a colourful yarn set in 1950s Sussex-by-the-Sea.

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4 and 20 Fit Girls4 and 20 Fit Girls

194011 minsSilent

Flock to your local keep fit class - there's a war on and Britain needs its citizens in tip-top shape.

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Quiet MorningQuiet Morning

School programme and Educational film195511 mins Location: Finchley

Everyday family life in suburban North London - as seen by folk learning English in the 1950s.

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Wisdom of the WildWisdom of the Wild

Documentary194012 mins

Fun mixture of natural history and wartime public information.

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Out of ChaosOut of Chaos

Documentary194427 mins Location: Trafalgar Square

"Why in the height of a world war, should there be this terrific interest in painting?"

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The Way We LiveThe Way We Live

War194664 mins Location: Plymouth

This stylish film shows the cramped life of one family in post-war Plymouth, and expands on the contentious plans for the city's rebuilding.

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Bird SanctuaryBird Sanctuary

Documentary193618 mins Location: Farne Islands

You don't have to be an ornithologist to enjoy this playful documentary about the Farne Islands' avian population

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Two Legs...Three Widows...And a near MissTwo Legs...Three Widows...And a near Miss

Documentary197720 mins

Vivid and alarming safety film shot at Teversal, Thoresby and Welbeck Collieries in Nottinghamshire.

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Deep DigDeep Dig

Documentary195720 mins

Epic undertaking at Bevercotes Colliery, digging 3000 feet to reach untapped coal seams in Nottinghamshire.

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Southern SeasideSouthern Seaside

Travelogue193515 minsSilent Location: Bournemouth

Anyone for a trip to the seaside? From Bournemouth to Margate via Brighton and Folkestone – sunny delights in abundance.

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What's for DinnerWhat's for Dinner

Documentary19409 mins

Could the perennial question of what to cook for dinner have been solved forever?

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Double ThreadDouble Thread

Documentary194333 mins Location: Guildford

The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds (1940s-style) at a nursery in Guildford.

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Dover, Spring 1947Dover, Spring 1947

Documentary194711 mins Location: Dover

Dover gets a makeover in this offbeat and pointed public information film.

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Travelling SixtiesTravelling Sixties

Documentary19689 mins Location: Isle of Wight

It’s 1968 and the elderly are on holiday; a Newcastle train goes to the Isle of Wight.

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Atoms at WorkAtoms at Work

195211 mins Location: Harwell

A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Harwell's nuclear research establishment and the peaceful applications of atomic energy.

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Bristol, British CityBristol, British City

Documentary195118 mins Location: Bristol

How a thousand years of history have helped the West Country capital to emerge from the blitz as a modern city of art and industry.

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Documentary193410 minsSilent Location: Edinburgh

Bonnie Edinburgh - a picturesque promotional film to attract tourists to the Scottish capital

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Around the Village GreenAround the Village Green

Travelogue193712 mins Location: Finchingfield

Rural life in the Essex villages of Finchingfield and Great Bardfield - and the mixed reactions of older residents to changing times.

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Fruitlands of KentFruitlands of Kent

193412 mins Location: East Kent Railway

The orchards ripen and a Kentish summer blossoms on film.

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Somersetshire Dairy FarmingSomersetshire Dairy Farming

193712 mins Location: Bleadon

Milky movie: close-up on Somerset's changing milk and cheese industry

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Market TownMarket Town

Travelogue194210 mins Location: Newark-on-Trent

Rise and shine! Newark market calls with a seductive array of produce.

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Documentary drama192939 minsSilent Location: Welwyn Garden City

This striking female-focused silent drama muses on the long-term perils of sexually transmitted diseases

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Incinerate - With CoalIncinerate - With Coal

Documentary197326 mins Location: Nottingham

The styles, streets and music of 1970s Nottingham are engagingly evoked in this industrial process film.

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The Site in the SeaThe Site in the Sea

Industry sponsored film197035 mins Location: Port Talbot

Building a new harbour at Port Talbot - it’s a man’s world in which the only females are a dredger and two seafaring vessels.

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The Children See It ThroughThe Children See It Through

Documentary19418 minsSilent Location: London

The children of the London Blitz are the focus of this punchy and poignant documentary.

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Nursery IslandNursery Island

Documentary193618 mins Location: Farne Islands

The birdlife of Northumberland's Farne Islands comes under the spotlight in this pioneering documentary from the Secrets of Life nature series.

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Hereford Pedigree CattleHereford Pedigree Cattle

School programme and Educational film193710 mins Location: Hereford

A subtly charming portrait of agricultural life in the west of England, featuring some fine pedigree cattle.

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Devon Dairy FarmingDevon Dairy Farming

School programme and Educational film19379 mins Location: Plympton

A charming 1930s geography lesson on dairy farming around the lush pasturelands of Wixenford Farm near Plymouth.

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Mrs. T. And Her Cabbage PatchMrs. T. And Her Cabbage Patch

Public Information Filler194112 mins

Poetic tribute to Mrs Turner's vegetable growing prowess, plus the delights of "wartime steaks"

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Civilian FrontCivilian Front

War194010 mins

It's all action on the home front with civilians on high alert to support the war effort.

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London PigeonLondon Pigeon

Documentary19409 mins Location: Westminster

Urban nature explored in this wonderful short film looking at the lives, habits and habitats of London’s pigeon population.

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Understanding AggressionUnderstanding Aggression

Documentary196023 mins

Eye-opening drama-doc, originally used in psychiatric nursing training.

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Storing Vegetables OutdoorsStoring Vegetables Outdoors

Government sponsored film19419 mins

Building a larder using soil and straw: this age-old method was a boon to home-front gardeners

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Prevention of cross Infection: Respiratory Tract Infection in Children's WardsPrevention of cross Infection: Respiratory Tract Infection in Children's Wards

Documentary195314 mins

How an outbreak of streptococcal infection spreads – droplet by droplet – and how it can be prevented.

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Frida Kahlo's CorsetFrida Kahlo's Corset

Drama20009 mins

Frida Kahlo’s Corset is a short experimental drama that follows a journey of transformation by the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) who wore a series of orthopaedic corsets because of impairment.

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Code Name: Westward Ho!Code Name: Westward Ho!

Documentary194911 mins

"They’re not so very different from our own people, are they?" A sensitive depiction of European workers in the UK.

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Cargo for ArdrossanCargo for Ardrossan

Documentary193918 mins Location: Islay

Oil arrives at the Ayrshire coast: this fine documentary by Ruby Grierson tells the story.

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Fair RentFair Rent

Documentary194711 mins Location: Aberdeen

Power cuts, housing shortages and exorbitant rents – Aberdeen man Norrie Williamson goes head to head with his greedy landlady

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Stooking and StackingStooking and Stacking

Documentary194312 mins

Are your stooking and stacking skills poor? Watch and learn how best to stack your stooks.

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Critical HarvestCritical Harvest

Government sponsored film19469 mins

Appeal for energetic city workers to get out to farms in their spare time to help out with the harvest of 1946.

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Near HomeNear Home

Government sponsored film194924 mins Location: Bishop Auckland

A rare outing for a 1945 drama documentary on local studies education in Bishop Auckland by one of Britain's pioneering women directors.

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Twenty-four Square MilesTwenty-four Square Miles

Documentary194642 mins Location: Banbury

For an impression of what life was like in rural Oxfordshire in the mid-1940s, look no further than this documentary

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How to FileHow to File

Industry sponsored film19418 mins

Listen up, apprentices! Learn how to smooth and shape metal – an important wartime skill.

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Documentary19369 mins Location: Millport

Go with the flow: the marine life of Millport, Ayrshire, ingeniously filmed.

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The HostellersThe Hostellers

Documentary196524 mins Location: Selby Canal

The 1960s and the peak of youth hostelling: hiking around the country, school trips, bunk beds, self-catering and crazy dancing to pop music.

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