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Festival of Britain. Norman Maclaren's 3D films shown at the Telekinema on the South Bank

"British film…qualifies, uniquely, under all three of the Festival's main headings – as an art, a science and an industry"
Gerald Barry, Director-General, Festival of Britain, in Films in 1951: A Special Publication on British Films and Film-Makers for the Festival of Britain, 1951

The 1951 Festival of Britain was organised by the Labour government at a time of economic hardship as a celebration of Britain's contribution to the 'common human heritage'. Humphrey Jennings, associated with the influential documentary movement of the 1930s, was commissioned to make the official festival film Family Portrait, but the Festival Office also funded some experimental films, including two stereoscopic (3-D) Technicolor films by Norman McLaren, who drew directly on the band of film to create his animations. In Now is the Time 3-D filmmaking is introduced through shapes and sounds, while Around is Around features oscilloscope patterns accompanied by an original soundtrack. Much of the funding initially promised for the production of experimental and documentary film was withdrawn, but the initiative was important since it lead the BFI to launch its Experimental Film Fund in 1952.

Wells Coates' functionalist Telekinema on the South Bank was specifically designed for the exhibition of 35mm, stereoscopic and stereophonic film, as well as large-screen closed-circuit television. The projection booth was installed behind glass, so that the public could see the film and sound equipment at work. After the festival, BFI took over the building, and it became the National Film Theatre in 1952. The original Telekinema closed in 1957, but a new building opened next door, under Waterloo Bridge, and so the existence of the NFT on the South Bank can be seen as one of the lasting legacies of the Festival of Britain.

Ingrid Stigsdotter

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The Telekinema in 1951

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