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Eastern Valley (1937)

Courtesy of Lord Verulam

Main image of Eastern Valley (1937)
16mm, black and white, 16 mins
DirectorsPaul Rotha
 Donald Alexander
Production CompanyStrand Film Company
 Stuart Legg
SponsorSociety Of Friends

Unemployed miners living in the Abergavenny area (including Cwmbran, Brynmawr and Cwmafon), are helped by 'An Order of friends' to form a Subsistence Production Society to farm and produce goods co-operatively.

Show full synopsis

Eastern Valley is a prime product of the 1930s documentary movement, an unabashed agit-prop film and a superior example of the work of the Strand Film Company.

Succinct, well edited and humanist in tone, this presentation of a Monmouthshire co-operative scheme contains many Strand trademarks, including a lyrical commentary which occasionally veers into leftist/liberal polemic. The film empathises with the collective's aims but never encourages false optimism. The men's views and the authoritative voice-over suggest that this initiative is only a short-term palliative for workers discarded and misused by industry.

The scheme was run by the Eastern Valley Subsistence Production Society, mainly government funded and operated by 'An Order of friends' - a mixture of Quakers and non-Quakers. It sought to reconcile unemployed pitmen, farmworkers and craftsmen to the value of a 'social experiment', a self-help collective. However, there was a perception that it was an idea imposed from the outside on the workers - who did not themselves have the means to fund it. This and the advent of war, which reintroduced traditional industrial jobs, led to the scheme's demise.

Eastern Valley, made for around £1,500 and financed partly by the Order of Friends, adopts a quasi-spiritual rhetoric celebrating the rebirth of hope. This is not altogether convincing in the light of scenes where miner Dai Williams questions the scheme's value, suggesting it can do little but give the men renewed interest in life. The film's purpose is obvious from a personal appeal for donations towards subsistence production, and it ends with an appeal for help for unemployed men in other valleys who wish to mount similar schemes.

Donald Alexander constructs the film cleverly to distil the disenchantment of men representing generations who had developed from agricultural artisans and skilled craftsmen into ironworkers and miners. They had hoped for greater rewards but found they had sacrificed their lives to industries that proved vulnerable.

Graham Greene thought Alexander had learned from documentarist Basil Wright "how to express poetically a moral judgment" and that Eastern Valley showed "Life as it once was before industry scarred and mutilated the valley. Life as it is - as it should be."

Views conveyed in the film are never as unproblematic. The men see their situation as a stopgap, and Alexander suggests that only secure employment will repay past and present generations for their physical and emotional investment in the industry and land.

Dave Berry

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. No more trout (2:53)
2. The old brewery (1:48)
3. Regaining lost values (3:52)
Complete film (16:14)
Summer on the Farm (1943)
Alexander, Donald (1913-93)
Legg, Stuart (1910-1988)