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Shown by Request (1947)


Main image of Shown by Request (1947)
35mm, 19 min, black & white
DirectorColin Dean
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorCentral Office Of Information
ProducerAlexander Shaw
Production ManagerLillian Buck
PhotographyFred Gamage

Narrator: Frederick Allen

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A description of the operations of the Central Film Library and mobile film units in distributing films for non-theatrical showing around the UK in venues such as factory canteens, schools and village halls.

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The Central Film Library (CFL) was founded in 1927 as part of the Imperial Institute (later the Commonwealth Institute) to distribute films of social and educational value. At the outbreak of World War II, the limited cinema screen time allocated to public information films meant that the Ministry of Information had to find other means of disseminating important information about war-related issues to people. The CFL became the distribution agency for officially produced or acquired films, dispatching a fleet of mobile film units, equipped with portable projectors and screens, to the furthest corners of Britain, where audiences congregated in factory canteens, schools, village halls or churches to be enlightened on issues ranging from the work of women in munitions production to the importance of keeping ration books clean. Institutions with their own projection equipment had films posted to them free of charge. 16mm film was preferred for non-theatrical screenings because it was non-flammable and, unlike 35mm, no special license was required for its exhibition.

The MOI's successor, the Central Office of Information, recognised the continuing need to distribute films reflecting the interests of government departments, and upgraded the CFL's operation from 50 to 144 mobile film vans working from 12 regional distribution bases around Britain. Films about regeneration, reconstruction, social reforms and other themes in the national interest were added to the list of titles available for hire. And through the CFL's Overseas Distribution Section, titles designed to present a positive image of Britain and promote trade were distributed to the United States and former British colonies.

In the early 1950s, a reduction of state funding and the emergence of television led to a scaling down of the Central Film Library's operations. By 1952, mobile film units were disbanded and the CFL's grant was halved, resulting in the introduction of hire charges. The CFL continued to operate until the mid-1990s, when advances in communication technology rendered it unviable.

Frederick Allen's stirring commentary over photographer Fred Gamage's poetic images - people walking to a village hall film-show on a warm summer evening; the weathered face of the ferryman transporting film and projector to a remote island school; a factory worker caught in a projector's beam - elevates what might have been mere matter-of-fact explanation into something lyrical and resonant. Shown by Request demonstrates to today's audiences the extent to which film in all its forms was an integral part of people's everyday lives.

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
1. Films on the road (2:27)
2. Despatch and return (2:38)
3. Films far and wide (3:30)
Complete film (18:08)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Central Office of Information (1946-2012)
Crown Film Unit