Collection MG2067 - John Grierson Collection

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John Grierson Collection

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  • approximately 1925-1980 (Creation)
    Grierson, John, 1898-1972

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Physical description

1.19 m of textual records ; 350,000 feet of film ; 195,000 feet of audio-tape ; 90 audio-cassettes ; 4 photographs

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Biographical history

Scottish-born John Grierson (26 April 1898 – 19 February 1972) is often regarded as “the father of Canadian documentary film”. He was educated at the universities of Glasgow and Chicago and in 1928 he returned to England. In 1929 he produced Drifters, the first documentary film and the well-spring of a new genre of cinema. Grierson first travelled to Canada in 1938 after the Canadian government requested that he survey the country’s film production. His report led to the founding of the National Film Board of Canada in May 1939. In October of the same year Grierson became the National Film Board’s first commissioner, a position he held until 1945. During the Second World War, Grierson became the general manager of Canada’s Wartime Information Board and greatly influenced wartime government communications. Grierson left his position with the Wartime Information Board as the war concluded. He served as director of mass communications for UNESCO from 1946 to 1948 and film controller for Britain’s Central Office of Information from 1948 to 1950. Grierson returned to Canada as a lecturer at McGill University in 1968, and again as special lecturer in the Communications Programme of the English Department in 1970-1971. In his later years, besides working as executive producer for British television and films, Grierson emerged as an articulate theorist of a new science, communications, particularly in relation to the social and political dimensions of documentary film. John Grierson passed away on February 19, 1972.

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Scope and content

The Grierson Collection was assembled by the Communications Department, McGill University, by soliciting, from a variety of sources, documentation on Grierson himself, on the institutions for which he worked (particularly the National Film Board of Canada), and on the history of documentary film. The core of the collection is from the Film Board, and consists of audio-visual production materials for films on Grierson and related topics; supplementing this are collections of documentation, and some personal papers (correspondence, notebooks, speeches), mostly obtained from associates of Grierson.

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Originals, printed materials, photocopies, films, audio-tapes,

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