There are fifteen short films in the package, whittled down from the collections in the BFI’s impressive National Archive. Katy’s job, as part of a curatorial team of six, was to select a range of films that together give a representative sense of the history of coal mining in Britain.
Thanks to the availability of footage from several traditions in British documentary making, from very early amateur documentaries to official films commissioned by industry, the screening included early ‘actualities’ (Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery, from 1901), promotional films (King Coal, Big Job), an artful documentary on miners’ leisure time (Gala Day), recreations of tragic folk songs (the three Songs of the Coalfields shorts), management training films (the amusingly stilted What About That Job) and films designed counteract press reports of the Miners’ strikes of the 1980s (Not Just Tea and Sandwiches), as well at the legacy of one picket line in particular (The Battle of Orgreave).
After the screenings, we conducted a lively and searching discussion of the films and the issues surrounding them. Several issues captured people’s imagination, and people commented on their own memories of the political climate of various periods and the way they were depicted. The discussion also took in a range of other connected areas, from curatorial politics to media rights issues.
With debate spilling out to the foyer at around 10.30pm, I remembered again the power that films have to generate debate and to help us learn about the past and about ourselves. I’m certainly keen to repeat it with other archive screenings at some point in the New Year.
I asked Katy for her own feelings on the event:
“It was a privilege to be invited to present this curated programme of films from the BFI National Archive showing coalmining through the 20th century. I was extremely heartened that so many people came out on a cold winter night to watch these remarkable films and it was great that members of the audience took the opportunity to take part in a discussion at the end of the screening.”
With many thanks to Katy McGahan for her time and for supporting such a great screening and talk.