To Be A Woman, directed by Jill Craigie © 1951 Muriel Pierotti, courtesy of The Women’s Library Collection/London School of Economics Library
OCA Tutor, Helen Warburton’s latest project FEMALE FIRSTS: Women Making BAFTA History will see its first opening to the public on 14 & 15 April 2018 at the BAFTA’s headquarters, 195 Piccadilly.
When Helen isn’t tutoring for the OCA, she works as an Exhibitions Manager in London. For the past 8 months she has been curating this new exhibition dedicated to the work and achievements of over 90 women from the history of BAFTA and of film, games and television in Britain:
Vivien Leigh on the film set of Lady Hamilton (1941) © Victoria & Albert Museum, London –
Vivien Leigh (1913 – 1967) was elected as the first female Fellow in 1952 by the then British Film Academy. She was also the first winner of the Best Actress category in 1953, the first year the performance awards were introduced at the British Academy Film Awards.
The brief for this project was incredibly ambitious: to mine BAFTA’s archive and 71-year awards history for the very first women to be recognised by the Academy and to be involved in its management and learning programmes. It was important that the exhibition reflected diverse stories with a focus on the crafts of the moving image and that it also referenced the histories of its branches in Scotland, Wales and the US.
Soldier Girls (1981) Photograph © Nick Broomfield – Cinematographer and director Joan Churchill, was the first female winner of BAFTA’s Robert Flaherty Award (Feature Length Film, Documentary in Content) at the British Academy Film Awards in 1982. Her win was shared with co-director Nick Broomfield.
The firsts that have been uncovered span the screen arts of film, games and television and have been curated into separate chapters, including ‘New Voices and Visions (1944-1979)’, ‘Craftswomen Behind the Camera’ and ‘Women’s Roles: The Power of Performance’. We also took this opportunity to further explore the heritage of BAFTA’s award itself, creating a unique display solely dedicated to the career of sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe, the woman behind the iconic BAFTA mask. For this, I worked with guest curator Ann Sumner (a researcher into Cunliffe’s life and work) and with Cunliffe’s estate to digitise and display never-before-exhibited photographs from the artist’s archives. It has been fantastic to be able to celebrate her work especially as 2018 also marks the centenary of her birth.
Mitzi Cunliffe in her studio in Didsbury, Manchester, with the designs and plaster maquette for the Jason Trophy (BAFTA ‘Mask’ Award), 1955. Photograph © Estate of the Artist/The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery/University of Leeds Art Collection
One of my favourite ‘firsts’ from the show is that of British filmmaker Jill Craigie (1911 – 1999), who came to national attention with Out of Chaos in 1944 – a groundbreaking documentary exploring the work of artists Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer, Evelyn Dunbar and others, during World War II. Craigie’s commitment to incorporating what she termed a ‘feminine’ perspective on social issues became evident in The Way We Live (1946) and her only feature as director, Blue Scar (1949).
In 1950, Craigie became the first woman on the Council of Management of the then British Film Academy, followed by producer Betty Box in 1953. Whilst influential amongst her peers, Craigie’s radical political views and boldness of vision challenged the establishment and, at the time, her work rarely received critical acclaim. Despite this, Craigie is now regarded as one of the most important creative voices within the major socialist and feminist art movements of 20th Century Britain.
The public open weekends offer an opportunity to see the exhibition with the company of live guides who can talk to you about the works on display. There is also a programme of film screenings held in BAFTA’s beautiful and historic theatre. It would be great to see you there!