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Landmark 1916 Documentary Screens for NZ’s Western Front Centenary

On 15 September, 1916, New Zealand soldiers fought their first major campaign on the Western Front. To mark the centenary, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Wellington will screen "The Battle of The Somme," the ground-breaking 1916 documentary that changed the way the public perceived war and cinema.

"Our 15 September screening coincides with memorial services in France marking 100 years to the day that the New Zealand Division entered the Battle of the Somme," says Ngā Taonga Chief Executive Rebecca Elvy.

"We are thrilled to be working in partnership with the Imperial War Museums (IWM) to bring this UNESCO-listed film from IWM’s collection to Wellington."

The Battle of the Somme (British Topical Committee for War Films, 1916)

Shot and screened in 1916, The Battle of the Somme was the first feature-length documentary to record war in action. It was shot on the front line by just two cameramen; Geoffrey Malins and J B McDowell. Shot and presented in the style of a documentary, it was different from the dramatic portrayals of war the public had seen before. Although it was a propaganda film, it responded to a real desire from the British public for news and images from the battlefront.

More than 20 million people, nearly half the population of Britain, watched the film in 1916.  Its popularity helped raise the status of film from light-hearted mass entertainment to a more serious and poignant form of communication.

Although popular, it was also controversial. Some thought the scenes of the dead were disrespectful and there was great debate in the newspapers. But many people believed it was their duty to experience the film, particularly as news of huge losses and casualties reached home.

IWM 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.

Screening information

When: 7pm, 15 Sept, 29 Sept, Sat 1 Oct, Wed 5 Oct & Fri 7 Oct
Where: Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, 84 Taranaki St, Wellington
Free admission

IWM’s First World War Centenary Partnership

IWM leads the First World Ward Centenary Partnership, a network of local, regional and international cultural and education institutions. The Partnership is presenting a programme of events, activities and digital platforms enabling people across the world to discover more about life in the First World War. For more information visit www.1914.org

IWM

IWM tells the stories of people lived, fought and died in the conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War. Its collection reveals the stories of people, places and events across its five museums.