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Today We Live (1937)


Main image of Today We Live (1937)
35mm, black and white, 23 mins
DirectorsRuby Grierson
 Ralph Bond
Production CompanyStrand Film Company
ProducerPaul Rotha
ScriptStuart Legg

Commentator: Howard Marshall

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Two case studies highlighting the work of the National Council of Social Service: the conversion of a barn into a village hall in South Cerney, Gloucestershire, and the building of an occupational centre in the depressed mining village of Pentre in the Rhondda Valley, Wales.

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Today We Live (d. Ruby Grierson/Ralph Bond, 1937) is an excellent example of the social documentary. The film's narrative neatly intertwines two stories, combining actuality footage with re-enacted scenes. The first, directed by Grierson, features a group of women in South Cerney converting a barn into a community centre for leisure activities such as amateur dramatics and keep-fit classes, while the second, directed by Bond, observes unemployed coalminers building an occupational centre for learning new skills such as carpentry and shoe repairing in Pentre.

The people we see on screen actually live in these communities and the film documents their attempts to improve their environment and living conditions. Grierson's directorial touch is evident and Today We Live was praised for its human and sympathetic treatment of the working classes, free from sentimentality and without patronising its subjects. Even the bureaucracy of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), for whom the film was made, is presented in an accessible manner.

The dramatic use of a radio broadcast advertising grants for occupational centres in the case of the coalminers, and the application for a grant by letter by a prominent member of the community in the case of the women villagers, introduces the viewer to the NCSS. The film makes no claims that the work of the NCSS is a solution to the problems of an increasingly depressed rural and industrial Britain. Instead, their facilities are presented as a way of offering assistance so that the communities can move forward.

Today We Live established Ruby Grierson as one of the few directors whose passionate sympathy with the life and spirit of ordinary people allowed the documentary movement to progress from the starkly observed fishermen of her brother's film, Drifters (1929) to the more warmly portrayed people in later documentaries.

Sarah Easen

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

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Video Clips
1. Economic crisis (2:36)
2. Fundraising (1:58)
3. Occupational Centre Committee (1:58)
Complete film (23:03)
Production stills
Alexander, Donald (1913-93)
Bond, Ralph (1904-1989)
Legg, Stuart (1910-1988)
Rotha, Paul (1907-1984)
Women Non-Fiction Filmmakers 1930-1960