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Gala Day (1963)


Main image of Gala Day (1963)
16mm, black and white, 26 mins
DirectorJohn Irvin
Production CompanyMithras Films
 BFI Experimental Film Fund
ProducerRichard De La Mare
 David Naden
ScriptJohn Irvin

A description of the various activities of Gala Day held annually at Durham when the miners and their families come to town.

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John Irvin, the director of Gala Day (1963), had been fascinated by the Durham Miners' Gala since witnessing it as a schoolboy. In the early 1960s, after gaining considerable experience in documentary filmmaking with British Transport Films and Movietone News, he submitted his treatment for a film of Durham's annual event was rejected by a commercial company. In May 1962, he was awarded £750 by the British Film Institute Experimental Film Fund. The project was, from that moment, a collective one. As a student at the London School of Film Technique in the late 1950s, Irvin met most of his future collaborators on the film. In 1962, he co-founded an independent production company, Mithras Films, with journalist Maurice Hatton and writer Richard de la Mare. These two groups formed of the production team for Gala Day.

The Miners' Gala was filmed on Saturday 21st July 1962, from dawn to dawn, by three different film crews equipped with 16-mm lightweight cameras and tape-recorders. The film was edited at night and weekends for five months in the cutting rooms of the BFI. It was shown to the public at the National Film Theatre in January 1964, and subsequently sold to the BBC, which broadcast it in the North of England the following month. The television screening provoked adverse reactions in the local press, because of the way in which the miners were depicted - a scene involving peeping toms caused particular controversy. The matter was taken to the House of Commons, and the film was not shown again by the BBC for over a year.

If Gala Day is such an interesting film, it is because it finds itself at the junction of several influences. It could be seen as a rather conventional documentary, especially in terms of the chronological construction of its narrative. However, the film uses many Free Cinema techniques (hand-held camera work, creative use of mostly unsynchronised sound, absence of didactic commentary) as well as a typical Free Cinema theme (working-class leisure). But its more direct, immediate and unromantic approach to the subject matter was also pointing towards the direct cinema which emerged in the US in the early 1960s.

Christophe Dupin

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Free Cinema'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (24:48)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Big Meeting, The (1963)
Mining Review 1/5: Durham Miners' Gala (1948)
Mining Review 7/12: Tamworth Gala (1954)
Beyond Free Cinema
King Coal
They Started Here