John Grierson

Active - 1929 - 1956  |   Born - Apr 25, 1898   |   Died - Jan 1, 1972   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Producer/director and film theorist John Grierson is the founding father of the British documentary movement; in fact, it was he who first used the word "documentary"--derived from the French word documentaire used by the French to denote travelogues--to describe Robert Flaherty's 1925 film Moana in a film review for the New York Sun. After obtaining his degree in philosophy from Glasgow University, and serving on a British minesweeper during World War I, he worked as a lecturer at Durham University. In 1924, he received a Rockefeller Research Fellowship to study the effects of media on public opinion in the U.S. He returned home in 1927 intrigued with the idea of using film as an educational medium. In 1928, with government sponsorship, he founded the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) where he made his first film, Drifters (1929). The film's popularity encouraged him to gather together an elite cadre of talented filmmakers who made 100 documentaries before the EMB dissolved in 1933. The unit then moved to the General Post Office (GPO) where with higher budgets and better conditions they produced such fine works as Song of Ceylon. He directed one more film, The Fishing Banks of Sky, in 1934. In 1937, he left GPO to found the Film Centre, an advisory and research organization for documentary filmmakers. Two years later he founded the prestigious National Film Board of Canada where he worked until 1945. He then came to the States and formed The World Today, a company designed to make films to promote international understanding. In 1947 he became director of Mass Media at UNESCO for 10 years, after which he became a host for the British television show This Wonderful World.

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