National Film and Television School

“The School’s task is to find and bring forward talent that will make its individual mark. For the cost of about two low budget features a year we are training more than 100 people. Which is more valuable?” (NFTS Introductory booklet). Report by Ken Clark.

Balloon directed by Ken Lidster at the National Film and Television School.

The GPO Film Unit, founded in the early Thirties, quite rightly earned a reputation for establishing the documentary film movement, and another reputation for film sponsorship.

The arrival in this country of Len Lye a ‘strange’ young Australian with, according to producer Hoppy Hopkins, his pockets full of many differently coloured sands”, did not immediately excite the cinema-going publics sensibilities. However, the release in 1933 of his innovative film Tusalava signalled the commencement of a departure from the norm, and there was more to come. Between the G.P.O’s live-action films one remembers with affection Lye’s entertaining Colour Box (1935) notable for its introduction of a then new technique of painting directly onto the film stock, Rainbow Dance (1936) a live-action/animated experiment made by handwork on the live action film stock combined with multiple offset colour printing of the three colour matrices, a departure from the usual practice of superimposing them in register to produce a full colour image. By this time, John Grierson had become a devotee of the medium and was prompted to add his own name to the opening title of Lye’s third effort Trade Tattoo (1938).

The same year Lotte Reiniger brought her unique talents to bear on The HPO – Heavenly Post Office, a 4-minute Dufaycolor silhouette commercial promoting the ‘greetings telegram, which she quickly followed with The Tocher.

A youngster joined the GPO Film Unit in 1937 and, following in Len Lye’s footsteps, produced Love On The Wing (1939) by drawing direct onto film. His name was Norman McLaren.

An altogether innovative experimental approach to animation which came to an abrupt halt on 3rd September 1939 when Britain blacked-out in readiness to thwart German pretensions.

The common factor in all of these films was their radical departure from the traditional method of film-making. Startling and new in their day, shown on television in recent years they demonstrated something of their early charisma.

They laid the foundation of John Grerson’s open-minded attitude towards new and imaginative experimental animation when he went to work for the National Film Board of Canada, where he was followed later by Norman McLaren.

But much of their pioneering instinct remained here, clearly demonstrated yet again when the re-named Post Office Film and Video Division sponsored the screening of The National Film and Television School’s graduate productions. Among them a perfectly delightful animated Plasticine film entitled Balloon.

Balloon was made by Canadian Ken Lidster. I chatted with him in the bar after the showing and found him to be modestly surprised, delighted and not a little bemused by the spontaneous enthusiastic audience reaction to his film. Born in Saskatchewan in 1960, he studied film and animation at the Emily Carr College of Art. After making animated commercials and educational spots for Sesame Street for a year, he came to the NFTS in 1985. His experience included three personal films The Canadian Hostelling Association, How The Dinosaurs Really Died and The Eulogy, altogether sufficient background to ensure his enrolment.

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