Basil Wright

Basil Wright

Basil Wright, (June 12, 1907, Sutton, Surrey - 14 October, 1987, Frieth, Buckinghamshire, England), was an English documentary filmmaker, film historian, film critic and teacher.


Basil Wright was a key figure in the British documentary film movement and the first recruit to join John Grierson at the Empire Marketing Board's film unit in 1930, shortly after he graduated from Cambridge University. Wright's 1934 film "Song of Ceylon" is his most celebrated work. Shot on location in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) the film was completed with the composer Walter Leigh at the GPO film unit in London. At the GPO Wright acted as producer and wrote the script for "Night Mail" (1936) for which he received a joint directorial credit with Harry Watt. Wright had introduced his friend W. H. Auden to the film unit and the poet’s verse was famously included in the film.

During WW2 Wright worked only as a producer, first at John Grierson's Film Centre before joining The Crown Film Unit between 1945 and 1946 as producer-in-charge. Among the best known films he produced for Crown are Humphrey Jennings' "A Diary for Timothy" (1946) and "A Defeated People" (1946). Returning to direction in the early 1950s, his films included "Waters of Time" (1951) made for the Festival of Britain, "World Without End" (1953) directed with Paul Rotha for UNESCO and "Greece: The Immortal Land" (1958) in collaboration with his friend the artist Michael Ayrton.

Writing throughout the 30s and 40s, Basil Wright had contributed to the theoretical development of documentary in the movement’s journals "Cinema Quarterly", "World Film News" and "Documentary Newsletter". He was the film critic for "The Spectator" after Graham Greene left. Wright was a regular contributor to the British Film Institute’s "Sight and Sound" during the 40s and 50s. He published a small book: "The Uses of Film" in 1948 and his personal (extensive) history of cinema "The Long View" in 1974. He taught at the University of Southern California (1962 and 1968), The National Film and Television School in London (1971-73) and Temple University (1977-78). He was Governor of the Bfi , a fellow of the British Film Academy and President of the International Association of Documentary Filmmakers.

In his films Wright combined an ability to look closely and carefully at a subject with a poetic and often experimental approach to editing and sound. In Britain he is commemorated with a film prize awarded biennially by the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Centenary celebrations

In honor of Basil Wright's centenary year, his career, and the careers of his colleagues and fellow centenarians: Edgar Anstey, Marion Grierson, Humphrey Jennings and Paul Rotha, were celebrated with a season of films between August and October 2007 at the British Film Institute in London. Following on from this season of films the Bfi released a four disk DVD set "Land of Promise".

Filmography as director

* "Conquest" (1930)
*"The Country Comes To Town" (* [ Bfi's Screenonline links to the Film. ] )
*"O'er Hill and Dale" (* [ Bfi's Screenonline links to the Film. ] )
*"Liner Cruising South"
*"Cargo From Jamaica"
*"Windmill in Barbados"
*"Song of Ceylon" (* [ Available on the Bfi 'Addressing The Nation' DVD Boxset] )
*"Children at School" (* [ Available on the Bfi 'Land of Promise' DVD Boxset] )
*"The Face of Scotland" (* [ Available from Scottish Screen] )
*"Bernard Miles on Gun Dogs"
*"Waters of Time" (* [ Available from Museum in Docklands, London] )
*"World Without End"
*"The Stained Glass at Fairford "(* [ Watch at the Arts Council Film Collection] )
*"A Place For Gold"


* Basil Wright, (1948), "The Uses of Film", Bodley Head, Oxford.
* Basil Wright, (1974), "The Long View: An International History of Cinema", Secker & Warburg, London.

*Ian Aitken, (1998), "The documentary film movement: an anthology", Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
*Martin Stollery, (2000) "Alternative empires: European modernist cinemas and the cultures of imperialism", Exeter, University of Exeter Press.

External links

* [ IMDB Entry For Basil Wright]
* [ Bfi's Screenonline entry for Basil Wright]
* [ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography]
* [ Watch Films from the Arts Council Film Collection]
* [ The Royal Anthropological Institute]

ee also

*Michael Ayrton
*Edgar Anstey
*Charles Burnett (director)
*Alberto Cavalcanti
*John Grierson
*Robert Flaherty
*Humphrey Jennings
*Walter Leigh
*Muir Mathieson
*Paul Rotha
*Harry Watt

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