Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
World is Rich, The (1947)


Main image of World is Rich, The (1947)
35mm, 35 min, black & white
DirectorPaul Rotha
Production CompanyFilms Of Fact
 Ministry of Food
ProducerPaul Rotha
ScriptArthur Calder-Marshall

Examination of the problems of world food distribution following WWII, outlining steps underway to deal with the problems.

Show full synopsis

The World Is Rich is a product of the documentary industry in transition. An early release from the newly created Central Office of Information, it was part of a trend in British documentary towards international subject matter. But it was also an informal sequel to Paul Rotha's 1943 film World of Plenty, concerned as it is with the food situation confronted by the globe in the early years after World War Two.

The film was produced in a 47-minute version, and a punchier 35-minute cut. Many of Rotha's usual touches are evident, though in fairly restrained form. Isotype diagrams are used but reasonably sparingly. Various narrators present different perspectives (typically, a female voice is the most compassionate and empathetic). But here they coalesce into a loose collage of observations, rather than being knitted into the highly schematic, allegorical pattern of earlier films. A very large proportion of the footage is taken from other sources: the images of starved children are quite harrowing even to today's hardened viewers. They would have been the more shocking for 1947's Western viewers (unthinkingly prejudiced as some of them were), given that many of the people shown are white Europeans. The film is frankly promotional - for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation - and features pieces to camera by its then head, John Boyd Orr (nutritional scientist and longtime Rotha collaborator). Yet it is also viscerally angry that humankind and its political systems have allowed famine to occur and persist. In the 21st century, they still do.

Notable among the credits (alongside a young Roy Plomley, of Desert Island Discs fame, providing one of the voices) are members of the second generation of factual filmmakers - those trained by the likes of Rotha and with rewarding careers still ahead of them. Michael Clarke and Michael Orrom, assistants on The World Is Rich, were prolific writer-director-producers within the postwar documentary industry from which Paul Rotha became largely estranged. Apparently, this film caused some onsternation in official circles, and understandably so. The COI's status was growing clearer - that it was the state's information agency, not a government-funded catalyst for socially engaged, sometimes independently minded, film production. As a result, documentaries as polemical as The World Is Rich became increasingly rare.

Patrick Russell

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Meet the crisis (0:54)
2. UNRRA (4:07)
3. World Food Board (3:50)
Complete film (43:29)
Production stills
Food or Famine (1962)
Orrom, Michael (1920-1997)
Rotha, Paul (1907-1984)
Science in Non-Fiction Film