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How to File (1941)

Courtesy of Shell International

Main image of How to File (1941)
35mm, black and white, 7 mins
DirectorKay Mander
Production CompanyShell Film Unit
ProducerEdgar Anstey
PhotographySidney Beadle

Training in the use of the file in metalwork.

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The minor attention this short film has attracted derives from its having been the first production directed by seminal female documentarist Kay Mander, for the Shell Film Unit. Certainly, it is interesting in the context of Mander's later career, mainly for its adventurous use of the camera (notably its incorporation of tracking shots). However, it is perhaps best appreciated as a skilful contribution to its genre - the technical instructional film.

By definition, the purpose of such films was to convey to a clearly identified target audience (whether in the general public, or in a particular field of work) exactly how to undertake a specific task. It is unsurprising that the history of instructional filmmaking is littered with film titles beginning 'How to...' - from How to Dig (1941) to How to Cook Green Vegetables (1944). The target audience for How to File was metalwork apprentices and its subject the basic techniques of using a metal file to smooth and shape raw metal materials.

The film's primary achievement is the economy with which it communicates its message: in a mere eight minutes it explains the basic principles of filing and shows its viewers how to position and hold a file, how to move over the material being shaped, different types of file, and - characteristically of the best instructional films - how to maintain accuracy. Metalwork was critical to the war effort but remained important in Britain's postwar industrial heyday; this film remained in Shell's distribution library for some 25 years, though it was no doubt occasionally mis-booked by employers wanting an instructional film covering basic secretarial practice.

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
Complete film (7:16)
Anstey, Edgar (1907-1987)
Mander, Kay (1915-)
Shell Film Unit (1934-)