These precious scenes of the impact of the Great Depression in Welsh mining villages still pack a powerful punch. Here is a landscape of despoiled valleys, dilapidated dwellings and tall slagheaps, peopled by desperate men, careworn women and innocent impoverished children. Although not shaped into narrative order, as a record of the Depression's effects these images have the stark eloquence of authorJohn Steinbeck's prose.
These two reels of 16mm footage seem to consist of some of the raw material gathered in the shooting of a film completed and distributed under the title Rhondda. This was under the auspices of the Film and Photo League, a political activist filmmaking group involving both professional and amateur filmmakers. The South Wales footage was shot on a borrowed camera by a left-wing upper-middle-class Cambridge graduate named Donald Alexander. Later, when assisting production of the professional documentary Today We Live (also available on BFI Player), Alexander recreated his images of slagheap coal-gathering in shots that have become iconic. Later still he headed the film department of the now-nationalised coal industry. This one filmmaker's coal-fuelled journey from angry agitation to dedicated public service is a social history in itself.