Scottish film producer, director, and theoretician. He pioneered the documentary film in Britain in the 1930s when he produced a series of information and publicity shorts for the General Post Office (GPO). The best known is Night Mail (1936), an account of the journey of the London–Glasgow mail train, directed by Basil Wright (1907–1987) and Harry Watt (1906–1987), with a score by Benjamin Britten and a commentary written by poet W H Auden.
Grierson's only film as a director, Drifters (1929), a documentary about the North Sea fishing fleet, revealed the influence of the montage style of editing favoured by such Soviet film-makers as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein. Among the many impressive films Grierson produced were Industrial Britain (1933) by the US documentarist Robert Flaherty, Basil Wright's Song of Ceylon (1934), made for the Ceylon Tea Board, and Coal Face (1935) by the Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti (1897–1982).
Grierson was born in Deanston and studied philosophy at the University of Glasgow and then journalism, cinema, and other forms of mass media in the USA. He joined the Film Unit of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) in 1927. When the EMB closed down in 1933, Grierson transferred with the Film Unit to the GPO, where the unit earned the British documentary movement an unparalleled reputation worldwide.
Grierson was responsible for the formation of the National Film Board of Canada in 1945. Although his documentary legacy continued to influence British film-making, his later career was something of a disappointment. After brief stints with UNESCO and the British government's Central Office of Information Film Unit, he cofounded the Group 3 production company in 1951, but the handful of features for which he was directly responsible were largely undistinguished.
Some of his writings were gathered in Grierson on Documentary (1946).
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