Lights, camera, representation! UEA Prof aims to make female filmmakers more visible


A ground-breaking project to shine a light on the role of women filmmakers, and make their work visible in archive records, will start this month led by a team of University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers.

UK project lead Prof Keith M Johnston, Professor of Film and Television Studies in UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies (AMA), hopes that the project will make women filmmakers more prominent in archive records, leading to greater recognition of their work by the wider public.

The study, worth £450,000, has been jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Irish Research Council (IRC), as part of the UK-Ireland Digital Humanities scheme.

Researchers at UEA, Maynooth University in Ireland, and the University of Sussex, will analyse a largely unknown archive of amateur women filmmakers in the UK and Ireland, to reveal gaps in existing archival practices and suggest changes that will make the films (and filmmakers) more accessible. Historically, women filmmakers have been underrepresented and unacknowledged when compared to their male counterparts; a trend the project hopes to address.

During the two-year project, the UK and Irish team will analyse historical records and metadata to investigate how traditional approaches to film archiving might have excluded women’s creative work from cultural heritage debates. This includes further research into a range of films, including Britain’s first all-female film production, Sally Sallies Forth (Frances Lascot, 1928).

Prof Johnston said: “Film archives are amazing cultural heritage resources – but much of their potential remains largely untapped, with some filmmakers remaining unheralded due to a lack of knowledge and data within existing catalogue records.”

The Irish project lead, Dr Sarah Arnold from Maynooth University, said: “I’m excited to start work with this team to enhance existing metadata practices – that is a crucial starting point to raise awareness of some amazing women filmmakers that might otherwise remain lost.”

Industry partners in the project include the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA) and the Irish Film Archive (IFI), part of the Irish Film Institute. The full project team consists of Professor Keith M. Johnston (UEA), Dr Sarah Arnold (Maynooth University), Dr Paul Frith (UEA), Angela Graham (EAFA), Sean Kelly (EAFA), Kasandra O’Connell (IFA), Dr Lorna Richardson (UEA), Dr Sharon Webb (Sussex), and Professor Melanie Williams (UEA).

The EAFA is the regional film archive for the East of England, which is owned and operated by UEA. The archive has a team of specialist staff who preserve and provide access to moving image material.  It has been an accredited archive under the National Archives Accreditation Scheme since 2017.

The IFI is the custodian of Ireland’s unique moving image heritage. As the home of the national collection of moving image, the IFI Irish Film Archive is at the centre of this activity, comprising a collection of over 30,000 cans of film and 10,000 broadcast tapes documenting Ireland’s past and present from 1897 to the present day, chronicling the social, political and cultural development of modern Ireland. The mission of the IFI Irish Film Archive is to acquire, preserve and provide access to Ireland’s moving image collections and associated materials for the benefit of current and future generations.