HISTORIC FILM FEEDBACK

Art and technique are key aspects of film study, but this year the UWI Museum has mainly been focusing on the information it can glean from its 1953 film on the early University of the West Indies.  And we’ve had some interesting encounters as a result.

These build on the Freeze Frame & Annotate exhibition held February – March 2014, and which has now been incorporated into the main exhibition on the Origins of the university.

Most recently, a visiting retired librarian ran into a photo she recognised – her former husband, the late Leo Tyson who was a chemistry major in the early Faculty of Natural Science and played piano in the student band. The film shows the laughing young man working the keys at one of the regular dances held at the Student Union. We had already identified Mr Tyson, and other members of the band, during the exhibition’s earlier run – when two members of the band came by.

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Also recently, the family of the late Dr Ken Hamilton, a young med student of the time, came to see his two cameo appearances in the film. They watched the 22-minute film through twice, pointing him out to younger members of the family. The images also sparked reminiscences and anecdotes. Hamilton, who died several years ago, had been a well-known student athlete from the secondary level, and was acknowledged to be ‘bright’.

Just this week, two alumna from the fifties visited and were able to add information on previously untagged images, as well as enjoying recalled anecdotes of their linguistic class; shown in the film. These were students in the early Arts faculty.

Many of the simply mounted screen shots now carry desired annotations. Some are brief – a name or nickname; perhaps a note of the subjects that person did. Others include name, anecdotal information, perhaps the name of another student whom they married, often also country of origin. But there are still many – sometimes clear shots of full-frontal faces – that are unidentified.

Finding information on the period that the film reflects is an on-going effort, especially for a film that was deliberately informational and promotional, rather than primarily artistic in intent – though historians of the genre and the period would undoubtedly find some artistic elements. The film was produced by Martin Rennalls, who headed  the early Jamaica Film Unit; set up in 1950 in a spare space at the nascent UCWI, with a primarily public educational focus.

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