Jonathan Melville: Remembering Grierson

John Grierson
John Grierson
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This weekend sees the announcement of the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, hundreds of movie stars and filmmakers gathering to celebrate the biggest and best films of the last year.

Meanwhile, last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the death of the Perthshire-born filmmaker John Grierson, who attended the first Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1947.

What links the Oscars to Grierson is that while the latter has been dubbed the ‘father of the documentary’ thanks to his pioneering work in making films in the genre, his legacy lives on with statuettes for Best Documentary still as hotly contested as ever.

According to Alfred Hitchock, it was Grierson’s Scottishness, derived from living in an ‘uncertain climate’, that allowed him to see deeper into his surroundings than most.

Best known for the films Night Mail, which looked at the running of the London to Glasgow postal train, and Drifters, the story of the North Sea herring fisheries filmed around Scotland, Grierson described documentary filmmaking as “the creative treatment of actuality” and he was responsible for the production of over 1000 films and TV programmes during his career.

Here in Scotland, viewers were treated to a weekly STV series hosted by Grierson called This Wonderful World, which ran from 1957 to 1967 and allowed him to screen short documentaries from around the globe on a multitude of subjects.

It’s unknown whether or not the documentary filmmakers waiting to hear their names called out at the Oscars have heard of Grierson, but through an annual award ceremony his legacy lives on.

I’ve also tracked down a comprehensive documentary about Grierson’s career which is worth watching if you have a spare hour – head to {http://||} to see it.


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