Essay films from the Arts Council archive: a programme of screenings and discussions

Our Business Is Fun, dir Michael Whyte, UK, 1975, 60 min., English

Date: Monday 27 March 2023

Time: 11:00-17:00

Venue: Birkbeck Cinema


Between 1953 and 1998, the Arts Council produced 450 films exploring an impressively wide variety of subjects and approaches to filmmaking. At its core, the project sought to use film to increase knowledge and understanding of art history, art institutions and individual artists’ practices. Spanning over four decades, the archive has become a fascinating reflection of Britain’s notion of the role of art, and of the UK’s shifting approaches to publicly funded film production. The films move between the educational, the experimental, and the radically socially engaged, as trends, tastes and politics change over time.

Reflecting some of the variety of films supported by the Arts Council, this session will present a number of rarely screened works from this collection, and invite a series of experts and researchers to contextualise and explore this fascinating body of work.

The first session will run 11:00am-2:00pm, curated by Janet McCabe (Birkbeck) and Selina Robertson (Club des Femmes/Birkbeck) will explore the ways in which women work with film. This session features a double bill of films by Margaret Williams, in the presence of the director herself. The first is Seeing for Ourselves: Women Working with Film (1983), which follows the work of Circles, a feminist film and video distributors based in London. The second is a short film, Margaret Tait: Film Maker (1983), a profile about the life and work of Scottish filmmaker, alongside Tait’s film haiku Portrait of Ga (1952). Screenings will be introduced by Janet McCabe and followed by a discussion with guest speakers, including Ian Christie (Birkbeck) and Lucy Reynolds (University of Westminster/artist/curator).  

Lunch break: 2:00pm-3:00pm

The second session will run 3:00pm-5:00pm, director Michael Whyte will screen and discuss his 1975 film, Our Business Is Fun. Ostensibly about two fairground sign painters, but underneath, this work reveals suggestions of a sexual relationship, and the painters’ histories on the frontline in the Second World War. Michael will discuss the process of the making and commissioning of such a piece within the 1970s context with William Fowler, BFI National Archive and curator of the session.

William Fowler is a writer and film historian. He is the BFI National Archive Curator of Artists’ Moving Image where he curates, acquires and restores films. His book, co-written with Vic Pratt, ‘The Bodies Beneath: The Flipside of British Film and Television’ was published by Strange Attractor Press in 2019. He co-curated the 2023 ‘People Make Television’ exhibition at Raven Row.

Seeing for Ourselves: Women Working in Film, dir. Margaret Williams, UK, 1984, 56 min., English

Portrait of Ga, dir. Margaret Tait, UK, 1952, 6 min., English

Margaret Tait. Film Maker, dir. Margaret Williams, UK, 1983, 34 min., English

Our Business Is Fun, dir. Michael Whyte, UK, 1975, 60 min., English