Marie Seton (from CFS)-Published in Indian Film Review and submitted to Central Government for formation of FFSI.
The Film Movement In India
The first film society was founded in London in 1925—the London Film Society. It was founded because the existing commercial cinemas would not show the better films then being produced abroad, in Germany, France, Sweden and Russia. The success of the first society led very quickly to the formation of further societies within the, Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburg, Birmingham and other leading university towns. Subsequently students who appreciated films set up new societies in other places; also a number of students graduated an entered 'the film industry, much to the general improvement of the film industry itself. Some later played a part in the distribution and exhibition of better films.
In France the pattern was the same, the first cine club being founded in: the University of the Sorbonne; while the oldest film society in the U.S. is the Documentary Film Group serving the University of Chicago. In Italy the largest cine club is the one formed by the University of Turin which holds four showings a week in ,a small theatre.
The first film societies in England had to be wholly dependent on foreign sources both for feature films and for short films. But, with the production in 1929 of the first British documentary film, John Grierson's, Drifters, British film societies became the chief means of showing British documentaries to the public. Subsequently; with the growth of appreciation of this type of film, the commercial cinemas took to shoving them. Film societies soon began to influence the quality of British feature films too, through the impact of the foreign films they showed.While the film society movement has constantly grown wherever it became rooted, it is also noticeable especially in England, France and the United States—that the creation of a discriminating and critical public has exerted influence on theatre exhibitors too. In 1938 there were only three cinemas in central London which would show specialised or "better" films. Now there are 9 regular specialized cinemas in central London and one such cinema in virtually every district and suburb of London. In short, with the creation of a more critical public, it paid theatre exhibitors to show better films. Today there are also specialized cinemas in most leading U.K. cities, for example, Manchester. Birmingham, Newcastle, Brighton, Glasgow. Edinburgh etc. In France there has been a similar development and also in the United States.
In recent years in England and Italy a rather new type of film society has developed as part of the educational programme of the Co-operative movement. These societies, which are verb numerous in London, draw their membership from those who support the Co-ops and the3 hold their showings and lectures in the local Co-operative Hall. The membership is for the most part drawn from the class of skilled workers and their families. Some of the Miner's Institutes in Wales have also developed film societies which hold showings in quite small places. This is also true in some small Italian towns and large villages.
The main aims of a film society are
(a) to show the best feature and short film from any country, including its own national productions of high merit:
(b) to encourage a higher level of Film Appreciation through the development of discussion;
(c) when a society or group of societies is sufficiently developed, for example, the Scottish Federation of Film Societies or the Venice Film Society, to publish a magazine of a critical and informative nature.The average film society programme in most countries is organised on a monthly, bi-monthly, or in some cases a weekly basis. With many, the season runs from September to the end of April. The programme consists of a major feature film preceeded by two short films, one of which is usually a documentary. It is now a general practice in the larger film societies of England, France, Italy and Holland to have at least one lecture during the season. The lecturer is an expert connected with the cinema, for example, a critic, director, scriptwriter, cameraman, art director, or an authority on animation, music in the cinema, sound. The lectures are usually arranged through the central film federation or film institute. I lecture for the British Film Institute's Film Appreciation Department, who arranged for me to come to India; in France I lectured through the Federation Francaise des Ciné Clubs, which is directly under the Ministry of Education; in Holland through the Film- museum, which is a branch of the Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam.
The central co-ordinating body can thus be organised in different ways—through a Ministry or a State Museum. In England the British Film Institute (the first film institute to come into existence) receives a grant through Parliament with the Government appointing an Administrator; but its position is similar in independence to the B.B.C. The grant is supplemented by membership fees paid by individual members and by affiliated film societies (300 or so in number). It has a number of departments but only two are of immediate interest to India. One is the National Film Archive with its collection of film classics which it rents at nominal rates to film societies and other organiu1onc and which it can also sell at nominal rates to organisations of a non-commercial nature. The other is the department which co-ordinates and generally helps the functioning of affiliated film societies and the development of more societies.
Because the B F I (and its sister institutions elsewhere) are recognized as educational bodies they are able to import films under special regulations applying to educational wok.
Yearly the British Film Institute organises Viewing Sessions to which provincial film societies and other organizations interested in better films, send delegates. These delegates view select film, to be made available to film societies during the next session The delegates vote on the merits of each film and those films which receive the highest grading are recommended by the British Film 1nstitut The B F I also pits out a monthly bulletin grading films for various uses including their suitability for children
In France the Federation Francaise des Cine Clubs (under the Ministry of Education) looks after the needs of cine clubs and publishes a magazine But the French film archives are controlled by a separate body (government financed) -the Cinematheque.The reactions evoked by my illustrated lectures on the cinema in Bombay, Delhi, Allahabad, Banares, Patna, Gaya, Calcutta, Madras, Mysore, Bangalore Hyderabad and Ahmadabad indicate that the time is ripe for the development in India of a film society movement through the setting up of a central organisation which would parallel the film institute’s and federations of film societies which have facilitated the growth of the movements in U.K., U S A France Holland Belgium and Italy. (Film society movements on a smaller scale -currently exist also in Switzerland, Australia, Canada and the Scandinavian countries).
An incomplete survey of the film Societies in India shows that there is a spasmodically active society in, Bombay. In Calcutta, a film society has been reinaugurated as a result of my six -day seminar in that city. In Madras the British Council has been running an excellent him society, which will become independent as soon as there is a reasonable possibility of it being able to survive on its own In Bangalore the Indian Institute of Sciences has been running a Scientific Film Society. In Hyderabad the Central Laboratories are planning to form a film society while various people in Ahmadabad and Delhi hope to create their societies in the near future.
But past experience indicates that it is very difficult for an individual society to survive in India This is due to the apparent difficulty in obtaining supply of suitable films and the fact that no single society can carry the heavy outlay involved either, in the commercial rental of films or the import of individual films (In all other countries where there are film societies the film institute’s supply films and there is free exchange of films between countries film society films being recognised as educational material. It is also a practice for 16mm distributors to circulate films at reasonable rentals) Hence little can be done in India until there is a central organisation which can as an educational non-commercial body, purchase outstanding films at minimum rates—free of Customs Duly—from film institute’s elsewhere (The sum quoted by the British Film Institute for such sale is £4.00 per 400ft).
The British Film Institute has expressed its willingness to co-operate with any central body dealing with films and film societies in India and will supply films at a nominal cost provided that it is on a non-commercial educational basis.There is no reason why the film society movement should not develop in India considering that there is the greatest interest in films including those which are of the better type.
There are Indian films which are in fact, now likely to be included in British film society programmes Two Acres of Land, Munna, Garamcoat, Pather Panchali etc. These films serve as a base to be augmented by outstanding foreign films some of which are available in India, having been acquired either by the Ministry of Education or by distributors. But it calls for it central body to set up a programme, obtain the films and encourage the formation of societies.
The benefit of starting a film society in a university is obvious. Members of the faculty participate in the committee and constitute a reliable body augmented by the assistance of students. The student body forms a regular membership which is always replaced when one group leaves.
In India the universities are the natural ground for film societies on the basis of my experience in India I believe it would be possible to organize a number of film societies and form a federation. The existing film society of Bombay needs to be strengthened; a society should be formed in Poona, others within the orbits of the Universities of Delhi, Lucknow, Allahabad and Banaras. The Patna Film Society, which terminated its work for lack of films should be revived. This society is reported to have approximately Rs 2,500 lying in a bank with which to recommence work when films are available. The University of Patna has something of a film society at present but it is restricted to educational films for lack of feature films.
The Society for Audio Visual Education at Gaya, Bihar, virtually constitutes a film society but like the others, is hampered by lack of films. In regard to Bangalore a general film society for the town could probably be developed through the Bangalore Institute of Culture while at the University of Mysore the ground is ready for a society to flourish.
In Hyderabad the Arts Society would probably constitute a good centre for a film society.
Thus, the existing societies and those for which there is scope can be federated into a central organisation.
The individual society's development and growth (in the present conditions of India) depend entirely upon the formation of this central organization which, to begin with would have two departments—a collection of films plus access to films available from other sources and a second department to help societies to organize themselves and work out a programme. The importance of collecting films from the historical point of view can hardly be exaggerated. Mr. Ernest Lindgren Curator of the National Film Archive British Film Institute wrote to me during my stay in India:
“I have just read a report of your Seminar in Bombay, sent to us by one of our enthusiastic members out there Mr. Jeffereis (one of the founders of the Bombay Film Society) He says you are going to take up the cudgels on behalf of the Indian film society movement while you are there...”
“May I however beg you to seize every opportunity you can, in whatever time you have left, to plug home the importance of a film archive by which I mean simply a permanent collection of worthwhile films held somewhere in India without such an archive the film society movement, will rest on shifting sand The great problem is film supply. European archives simply cannot afford to lend their films across such a distance for short periods even if a short period was enough They can, however, have copies specially made and sent at cost or on exchange, not to a film society but to a properly constituted permanent non commercial archive for permanent retention. India should have its own copy of Potemkin etc. - not have to borrow them continually. Only thus can they build the study of film art and history in India on rock instead of sand. I know you realise this but they may not...
A central organization or Film Institute requires a Board of Governors or Committee, part of such Committee being composed of people with experience in education or cultural organisations and the rest directly associated with one or another branch of cinematography, and people of creative standing It then requires (to begin with) at least one working director with (a) knowledge of films and film society programmes and (b) the organizational ability to get programmes planned and sent out to societies. Assistance as to the average regulations programmes etc. can be supplied by existing institutes and then adapted to Indian conditions. The director and a small assistant staff would had to be paid though in most countries including India the officers of the individual film societies are not paid.
For myself, I can assure any Indian Federation of two things First that through my with the British Film Institute I can secure the fullest co-operation of this body and all similar institutions in Europe in regard to the supply of films second that I would gladly advise as to the suitability of foreign films to be sent to India for film society use (I brought some 35 films and film extracts to work with here so I have some idea of what is and what is not suitable for Indian audiences).
If certain film classics were obtained the British Film Institute would supply introductory literature for each These mimeographed pamphlets are issued for the purpose of giving each society the fullest possible details about the film they are showing and thus enable people to start the valuable process of film criticism and discussion about a given film.
In order that a film society should be dynamic and serve its fullest purpose it is essential to have discussion and lead the members into the fullest participation. Further, it is essential that I any central film institute keeps in constant dynamic contact with film societies and the real desires of the public so that it as well as the societies can grow. I will close with one observation. In 1934 I visited a man with an idea that there ought to be a film institute in London to set up a film archive. He had one desk in a small room and no visible prospects of fulfilling his dream. In 1936, I was writing the history of the British Cinema for the British Film institute, which had come into-being with a government grant. In 1938, I was making their first film for them. Today, the institute that started as an idea in one room has innumerable departments and is still growing. In 1934, the level of British film production (except for a few documentaries) was very much lower than the current level of Indian production. Still the film society movement created a high level of appreciation and promoted good documentary films even though there was not a single British feature film fit to show at a film society. Today certain British films, for example, Great Expectations and Brief Encounter are shown in film society programmes all over the world
India has at least several feature films in the better films category. The problem is to get these films to a wider public, to encourage more good films and for the sake of creating better taste, for people to see the best of international film classics and for that matter, for film technicians to see the best in order that may set themselves a very high standard.
The potential film society public here is enormously larger than in any other country I know. The truth is that at the moment this public is starved for better films. This is why I have presumed to draw up this memorandum.