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First of Free Cinema screenings at the National Film Theatre

Free Cinema was a series of 6 short film programmes shown at the National Film Theatre between February 1956 and March 1959. The majority of the films included were documentaries, but they rejected the style associated with the Griersonian movement of the 1930s. Relying less on authoritative voiceovers, many of the films experimented with the poetic potential of disjunction between image and sound.

The first Free Cinema programme brought together O Dreamland (1953), a film of Margate's funfair that Lindsay Anderson had made a few year earlier but not been able to get exhibited, Momma Don't Allow (1956), a film about young people at a jazz club in London's Wood Green directed by Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, and Together (1956), Lorenza Mazzetti's film about two deaf-mute dock workers in the East End, played by the artists Michael Andrews and Eduardo Paolozzi. Later programmes included French and Polish New Wave films, and more work by young directors in Britain, notably two ambitious documentaries sponsored by Ford: Anderson's portrayal of workers at the Covent Garden market, Every Day Except Christmas (1957), and Reisz's We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959) about a youth club in South London. Other Free Cinema films received financial support from the BFI's Experimental Film Fund. The often unpaid work of the cinematographer Walter Lassally and the technician John Fletcher helped the young filmmakers overcome many of the technical problems associated with low budget filmmaking. The critical success of Free Cinema paved the way for the British New Wave of the 1960s, but through their (admittedly selective and ambivalent) interest in popular culture and the poetics of the found and everyday, the films can also be related to the emergence of pop art.

Ingrid Stigsdotter

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First Free Cinema screening at the NFT, London

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