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O'er Hill and Dale (1932)


Main image of O'er Hill and Dale (1932)
35mm, black and white, 17 mins
DirectorBasil Wright
Production CompanyEmpire Marketing Board Film Unit
ProducerJohn Grierson
Commentary scriptAndrew Buchanan

The day-to-day life and working activities of a characteristic Scottish shepherd in the border country during the lambing season.

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O'er Hill and Dale was one of a small group of Empire Marketing Board films given theatrical release by Gaumont British in 1933 and collectively known as the 'Imperial Six'. Previously, the majority of the EMB's films had reached audiences in schools, clubs and societies through its own non-commercial channels of distribution. As the EMB had no sound facilities of its own, Gaumont added narration and music to all the films. Many of the EMB filmmakers were disappointed by this imposition, considering the soundtracks unsuited to their work; Basil Wright was lucky - the distributors were persuaded to accept his own narration, spoken by filmmaker Andrew Buchanan.

O'er Hill and Dale was filmed in the Cheviot Hills bordering Scotland, on a farm belonging to Walter Elliot - then Minister for Agriculture and a key figure at the EMB. No mention of this connection is made in the film, however, which focuses solely on a day in the life of a shepherd, Mr Martin. Wright worked without a crew, lugging his Newman Sinclair camera, tripod, lenses and film stock across the hills as he followed the shepherd and his flock.

The film's focus on a single named individual at work makes it unusual among the EMB productions, most of which reflect a more impersonal engagement with modern industry and agriculture. O'er Hill and Dale's timeless shepherd, alone in a bleak landscape, has more in common with the Inuit hunter of Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (US, 1922). Despite the seemingly absent modern world, Wright's film achieves one of the EMB's principal aims, namely to provide a contemporary audience with some understanding of the agricultural work of the nation. Central to the EMB's promotion of British and Empire goods was fostering a general awareness about products - where they came from, how they were cultivated - rather than developing specific brands.

Wright put his heart into O'er Hill and Dale, and was well pleased with the result, considering it his best camera work and his most personal film to date. The effect of the landscape upon him is evident in the inspired photography, and the film reveals something of the skill and confidence he would later display in Song of Ceylon (1934).

Jon Hoare

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Video Clips
1. The shepherd's round (2:50)
2. Stormy rescue (3:03)
Complete film (15:07)
Grierson, John (1898-1972)
Wright, Basil (1907-1987)
Empire Marketing Board Film Unit (1926-1933)