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The Battle of The Somme


Thu 15 Sep 2016, 7:00pm–8:15pm
Thu 29 Sep 2016, 7:00pm–8:15pm
Sat 1 Oct 2016, 7:00pm–8:15pm
Wed 5 Oct 2016, 7:00pm–8:15pm
Fri 7 Oct 2016, 7:00pm–8:15pm

Where: Nga Taonga Sound & Vision, National Library Building, 70 Molesworth Street, Thorndon, Wellington

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

This year, Imperial War Museums (IWM) and members of the First World War Centenary Partnership are working together to show the UNESCO listed film "The Battle of the Somme," to audiences across the world. Join us for screenings of the film in Wellington. Shot and screened in 1916, it was the first feature-length documentary about war and changed the way both cinema and war was perceived by the public.

An introduction to "The Battle of the Somme," courtesy of Dr. Toby Haggith:
The film was shot by just two cameramen; Geoffrey Malins and J B McDowell. Filming took place between 25 June and 9 July 1916, covering the build-up and opening stages of the Battle of the Somme. The film is definitely a propaganda film, though it is filmed and presented in the style of a documentary, and was made in response to a real desire from the British public for news of and images from the battlefront. It was created to rally civilian support, particularly for the production of munitions, and British soldiers are portrayed as well-fed, respectful to prisoners and well-looked after.

The film was first privately shown to David Lloyd George on the 2 August 1916 and the first major screening took place on 10 August at the Scala Theatre, Soho, London. The Battle of the Somme continued to be distributed for at least five months afterwards. By October 1916, the film had received around 20 million admissions - the UK population at the time was 43 million.

"The Battle of the Somme" was filmed on the front line at great personal danger to the cameramen, and offered audiences a unique, almost tangible link to their family members on the battlefront. Contemporary reactions to the film varied greatly; some members of the public thought the scenes of the dead were disrespectful or voyeuristic. There was debate in the newspapers and at least one cinema manager refused to show it. But most people believed it was their duty to see the film and experience the “reality” of warfare. The popularity of the film helped raise the status of film from a trashy form of mass-entertainment to a more serious and poignant form of communication.

The Imperial War Museum took ownership of the film in 1920, and in 2002 undertook digital restoration of the surviving elements. A new orchestral score was commissioned from Laura Rossi in 2002 and in 2005 the film was listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register – one of the first films, and the first British document of any kind, to be listed. The Battle of the Somme film remains the source of many of the conflict’s most iconic images, from the “over the top” sequence to the piggy-back rescue in the trenches, and continues to have great importance not only as a record of war but as a piece of cinema.

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