Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings/Stewart McAllister, 1942, UK)

Listen to Britain is a short British propaganda film made in 1942 to support Allied efforts in the war. It is one of several propaganda films nominated for Best Documentary at the 1943 Academy Awards - the first time such a category appeared. The film was directed by Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister. Jennings was one of the founders of the Mass Observation project. The Mass Observation project ran from the 1930s through to the 1930s and involved recording the day-to-day life of Britons, from conversations to work. Listen to Britain is very much in the spirit of this project, as it aims to show the British at war through the documentation of everyday life.

Notably, when the film was released internationally. the films' distributors were worried that the film's ambiguous and poetic nature would cause it to be interpreted incorrectly. As a result, the filmmakers added an introduction by the head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Leonard Brockington. Brockington's introduction seems slightly odd in retrospect, as he aims to show people that they are viewing the heart of the British people.

The film's style was quite different from traditional documentary propaganda films in several ways. Notably, Jennings and McAllister dispense with the usual "Voice of God" narrator and instead let the images speak for themselves. The film also has a verite quality. While certain elements were certainly staged, they feel quite realistic. Also, the film notably does not focus so much on soldiers, but also quite heavy on the role of women as well as domestic life. No wonder the film inspired a generation of British filmmakers including Mike Leigh and Lindsay Anderson. Listen to Britain is worth a watch for people interested in film history as an example of a film that pushed the boundary of what a propaganda film could be.



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