DMU academic helps arrange special screening of 1916 First World War film

The first film to truly bring home the horrors of the First World War to families and loved ones is being shown to mark 100 years since one of the Great War’s bloodiest battles.

A special screening of The Battle of The Somme, filmed in the trenches in 1916, will be shown at Leicester Cathedral on Saturday October 1 with music from the 62-piece Leicester Symphony Orchestra.

INSET somme posters
It is a rare chance to see the film, which was filmed in the trenches of France by cameramen Geoffrey Malins and J B McDowell, on the big screen. The film, distributed by the Imperial War Museum, is being shown around the country as part of commemorations marking 100 years since the terrible battle. It has now been digitally restored.

Laraine Porter, of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s Cinema and Television History (CATH) research centre, said: “It was the first film that brought the War home. It changed the way that War was understood by ordinary people “

“Everybody knew people that were fighting, but this was the first time that the dead and wounded were depicted on film and people realised what was going on at the Front.  It was quite controversial.

“On a local level it had significant appeal because both the Leicestershire and Sherwood Forester regiments were fighting and the film featured particular regiments on screen. Going to see the film offered a chance to see loved ones, particularly as the close-ups and panning shots employed by Malins and McDowell meant the audience could hope to pick out people they knew.”

Laraine, who organises the British Silent Film Festival at the Phoenix – one of the UK’s largest silent film events - said that a side effect of the film was to raise the status of the cinema, previously seen by the Government as “trashy mass entertainment” to a more serious and effective form of communication.

“Local cinemas were used as recruitment and rallying places in 1916, and this film changed the way that the government communicated. Cinema was understood as mere working class, mass entertainment, but this film changed all of that because of how powerful it was in telling the story of what was happening on the Front, everyone wanted to see it.”

The film was released on 10 August 1916. By October, it had been seen by 20 million people. The population of the UK at the time was 43 million – making it one of the most-watched films ever made.

The Battle of the Somme was filmed on the front line and offered audiences a unique, almost tangible link to their family members on the battlefront. Created as wartime propaganda, it aimed to rally support – especially for the production of munitions – and British soldiers were portrayed as well-fed, respectful to prisoners and well looked after.
Leicester Symphony Orchestra will be playing music composed by Laura Rossi, who was commissioned to write a new score for the film 10 years ago by the Imperial War Museum. The screening is being funded by DMUlocal, which works with Leicester's communities to creative positive change.

Money from the screening will be donated to Leicestershire hospice LOROS and DMU Square Mile India, which supports a children’s home in Gujarat. Tickets are available from Leicester's Phoenix Cinema, Leicester Symphony Orchestra or the cathedral shop.

Posted on Friday 16th September 2016

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