By Sophie McMahon
At the beginning of November, I had the opportunity to attend 'Untold Archive Stories,' a CINECITY event hosted by The Depot in Lewes.
Barney Snow, a TV documentary producer and director, presented three films he created using film collections from the University of Brighton's Screen Archive South East as part of this special screening.
The first of the three projects was a memoir by amateur filmmaker Chris Cooper about his love of the Bluebell Railway and steam heritage, as well as a more personal account of his childhood in postwar Britain.
Archival footage from Cooper's early work was overlaid with a recorded conversation between him and Snow, which added a personal touch to what would otherwise simply be a railway story. Some of the earliest footage, shot by a family member rather than Cooper, featured him and his Aunt Kitty, whom he mentioned he adored. In the same conversation, he admitted to Snow that despite being around nine or ten, he doesn't remember much of the footage being taken, which he blames on the Doodle Bug that hit his home during World War Two.
It was fascinating to hear Snow's post-screening discussion, especially when he mentioned how meeting Cooper influenced the film's direction. He stated that he had intended to focus on Cooper's railway footage and make a more "rural" film, but after interviewing the director, he ended up going in a completely different direction than expected. This pragmatic approach to filmmaking using archive footage, he said, is a recurring perspective he opts to take when conducting his work.
Snow's second film, titled '1066,' was composed of 8mm archival film from 1966 that captured three schools in Kent reenacting the Norman Invasion. This footage, which is now more than a half-century old, as well as two interviews with children who were featured in it, brilliantly captured memories of a bygone era. It was heartwarming to see one of the interviewees in the audience, beaming as he recognised himself in the film.
Finally, we were introduced to the 1930s work of lone amateur filmmaker, Frank P Barnitt, a solicitor from Tunbridge Wells. There is little known about the footage beyond the basics as it was deposited in the archive some two decades after Barnitt’s death in the 1970s. Whilst he has been described as a ‘lone’ maker, his name does appear in The World Film Encyclopedia and his work has begun to gain more recognition in recent years. Particularly since the British Film Institute (BFI) have now digitised all of his films, some of which are available to view here.
A four-minute snippet from Barnitt's silent film Country Rhapsody (1938), shot on 9.5mm film, was shown at the end of the screening. The footage is believed to have been intended to be accompanied by music, but there is no knowledge of what music was originally employed and therefore Snow opted for it to remain silent.
The cine-poem traced the spring season from beginning to end, with moments of energy and moments of calm, and was described as 'musical' despite being silent. It shared intriguing parallels with Joris Ivens' 1929 film Rain, which has been regarded as a prototypically poetic display. Barnitt was clearly influenced by the new way of seeing film that was emerging in Europe at the time.
The entire screening was a pleasure to attend and demonstrated the beauty and power of bringing untold stories to the small screen, giving a voice to those who may have otherwise been forgotten.
Some stills from Frank P Barnitt’s ‘Pond Life’ (1935) courtesy of BFI Player