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The poet of documentary

John Grierson saw documentary as a lesson; Humphrey Jennings's wartime films showed that it could be an art. It is Jennings we should remember

By Kevin MacDonald   February 2005

Humphrey Jennings by Kevin Jackson Picador, £30

Kevin Jackson starts this biography by baldly stating that Humphrey Jennings was “Britain’s greatest filmmaker.” My initial reaction was: nonsense. But the more I read, the more I wondered whether Jackson might be right.

Jennings’s output as a filmmaker was small: one feature-length “docudrama” (Fires were Started) and a dozen shorts, only four of which are significant: Spare Time, Listen to Britain, The Silent Village and A Diary for Timothy. And yet in those few thousand feet of celluloid, Jennings created a cinematic world that was visually and thematically rich and—that rarest of…

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