In February 2013 we digitised a VHS tape from Martin Smith, the 1994 documentary Life Can Be Wonderful. The VHS tape was the only copy of the film Smith owned, and it is quite common for Great Bear to digitise projects where the film maker does not have the master copy. This is because original copies are often held by large production companies, and films can be subject to complex distribution and screening conditions.
Life Can Be Wonderful is a film was about the life of his good friend Stanley Forman, a committed communist and major figure in British left-wing cinema, who passed away at the age of 91 on 7 February 2013. Forman’s dedication to communism remained a controversial issue until his death. Smith described his conflicts with his friend which ‘most often they centred on what I saw as his refusal to own up to the enormity of Stalin’s crimes. On camera he told me that I was his dear friend, “but not a dear comrade” and apologised for failing to convey “the spirit of the times”‘.
Stanley Forman is a fascinating figure in terms of the work we do at the Great Bear. He is described on the website Putney Debater as ‘the archive man.’ The site goes on to say
His company, Plato/ Education and Television Films (ETV), held a unique library of left- wing documentaries which amounted to the history of the twentieth century from a socialist perspective. Established in 1950 as Plato Films, the outfit was what would be called in Cold War ideology a front organisation, set up by members of the Communist Party to distribute films from behind the Iron Curtain. Under the slogan ‘See the other half of the world’, Plato provided the movement with a film distributor for documentaries from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, taking in China (until the Sino-Soviet split), Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere, which would otherwise never be seen here.
The Educational and Television Films archive is held at the British Film Institute, and some material is available to view on the JISC Media Hub website.