Wednesday, January 18, 2012

John Grierson

Living in Montreal, I grew up with films from the National Film Board of Canada. My father had a 16mm projector and my brother rented films for a group of his friends. I got to watch with them. I became a huge fan of Norman McLaren and of course, learned about John Grierson as the first head of the film board. When I was in university, I had the privilege of taking a film course (appreciation of films, not making them) with the man. He was already in his early 70s, but his passion and depth made the course compelling. It was just a couple of years before he died.

The NFB has made its films available on line and today I was pointed in the direction of a film about John Grierson. Well, I just had to watch it. It was worth every minute.

He talked about telling stories -
Walter Winchell  asked how people could know everything about everything in the modern world. Grierson thought about how he could help spread knowledge.

Grierson initially was interested in the press - but "if you dramatized things..... as distinct from giving information you might find a way of illuminating the world" Then he got interested in movies. It was he who coined the term documentary film.

During WWII, he was invited to Canada and it was then that the film board was founded. He was an innovator ahead of his time. I think of how we are helping students tell digital stories. They could do well to watch some of the many films available from the NFB to see how the masters, many of the early ones schooled under Grierson's directorship, plied their craft. Grierson knew that the best way to educate, to inform was through story.

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