“The trouble with you is that you look at things as though they were in a goldfish bowl. I’m going to break your goldfish bowl”
Ruby Grierson, to her brother John

John 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 new digital restorations from the BFI National Archive, supported by The Film Foundation. 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. There 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.

BFI National Archive curator Ros Cranston

From Beside the Seaside to The English Inn: Restoration Programme 1 + intro by BFI curator Ros Cranston

A revelatory programme of five pioneering documentaries by women in the 1930s and 40s.

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From Birth-Day to Something Nice to Eat: Restoration Programme 2 + intro by BFI curator Ros Cranston

Five groundbreaking documentaries by women, from wartime to the swinging 60s.

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Jill Craigie: Film Pioneer

Including works by Lee Miller and Fred Daniels, this exhibition explores what made Craigie and her working methods unique.

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The Camera Is Ours: Study Day + Independent Miss Craigie + Q&A with director Lizzie Thynne and associate producer Hollie Price Hollie Price

A study day highlighting the careers of directors whose work has been restored as part of our season.

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From the Sea to the Land Beyond

A unique collaboration between filmmaker Penny Woolcock and one of Britain’s best loved bands, Sea Power.

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For Sama + intro by director Waad Al-Kateab

An astonishing award-winning documentary of a young mother’s experiences during the war in Syria.

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Seniors’ Free Archive Matinee: White Riot + discussion

A documentary about the popular Rock Against Racism movement of the late 1970s.

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The Hermit of Treig + Q&A with director Lizzie MacKenzie

This meditative documentary gives a rare glimpse into remote rural life.

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Cow + Q&A with producer Kat Mansoor

Andrea Arnold turns her trademark intimate, observational lens to a dairy cow.

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Hostile + director Sonita Gale in conversation with Nitin Sawhney

Personal testimony is at the heart of this new documentary about the migrant experience in the UK.

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Want more?

See more docs in the BFI shop.

A collection of shorts and features will soon be available on BFI Player.

The Camera Is Ours: Britain’s Women Documentary Makers (two-disc DVD) is released in March.

Film copy by Ros Cranston, Maggi Hurt, Kimberley Sheehan and David Somerset.

Main image: Kay Mander. Courtesy of Panamint.