Wright, Basil (1907-1987)*

The principal contribution that Basil Wright made to the history of early ethnographic film-making was the remarkable lyrical documentary, Song of Ceylon, released in 1934.

Wright was one of the first young film-makers to be recruited by John Grierson to work with him in the film unit of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB). It was this body that commissioned Song of Ceylon on behalf of the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board, which had originally envisaged four one-reel travelogues about the island that is now known as Sri Lanka. Grierson acted as the producer of the film. When the EMB was disbanded, the production was taken over by the General Post Office (GPO) film unit, also headed by Grierson.

While working with the GPO film unit, Wright would go on to make Night Mail (1936) with Harry Watt as well as a number of other films. As director, editor and producer, he would continue to make sponsored documentaries on a broad variety of subjects until the 1970s, but would never again make a film about a culturally exotic group.

Texts : Starr 1975/1996, Guynn 1998.

© 2018 Paul Henley