A Proud British Tradition: Documentary recognised at very first Film Awards
Britain has a remarkable heritage in documentary making, one stretching back to the 1920s and 1930s and the work of the Crown Film Unit during the Second World War. Many of the filmmakers responsible for this heritage were among the founding members of what was then the British Film Academy –including such fabled figures as John Grierson, Humphrey Jennings and Paul Rotha.

Indeed, documentary was a feature of the very first film awards in 1949, with the special award going to Rotha’s polemic about postwar Europe, The World is Rich. A specific category was added the next year. As documentary flourished on TV, groundbreaking work such as Michael Apted’s Up series was recognised with nominations, before the later resurgence of documentary on the big-screen with the emergence of documentary features such as The Thin Blue Line (1988), Roger and Me (1989) and Hoop Dreams (1995).

That British connection, meanwhile, was remade with the naming of Kevin MacDonald’s thrilling Touching The Void as Outstanding British Film in 2004, helping to usher in the return of a bespoke documentary category to the Film Awards.

Image: David Attenborough presents the Flaherty Documentary Award to Claude Lanzmann, director of the epic documentary Shoah (1985). The documentary recounts the story of the Holocaust through interviews with witnesses – perpetrators as well as survivors. The film amounts to over 9 hours of oral history footage.

BAFTA Archive

Video: Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) in conversation with fellow documentarian Adam Curtis in 2011 (Source: BAFTA).