Out Gallivanting – #HerCentury: Scotland’s Women on Film, 15 October 2019

On Tuesday last week I was lucky to get a ticket for the sold out screening of ‘Her Century: Scotland’s Women on Film‘ at the GFT in Glasgow.

‘Her Century’ has been curated by Emily Munro and edited by Stuart Wilson of the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive and features work from Scottish female filmmakers including Sarah Erulkar, Brigid ‘Budge’ Cooper and Jenny Gilbertson. These rarely-seen films follow women’s histories through 100 years of filmmaking in Scotland. This series of films showing us women’s lives throughout the twentieth century under three headings ‘education’, ‘at work’ and ‘horizons’. It was a varied programme featuring women of different backgrounds and at all ages:

‘Scotland’s women lived through major social change in the twentieth century, challenging their roles in society and fighting for equality: at work and at home, classroom to croft, girlhood to motherhood. We bring you their stories in Her Century’

Particular favourites for me from ‘Education’ were a clip of ‘Red Skirts on Clydeside‘ which I’ve seen a few times but never fails to highlight how little we still know about some of the women involved in Glasgow’s famous rent strikes. I also really enjoyed ‘Male and Female‘ where teenagers discussed gender roles in 1980 with one girl commenting that it would be good if men stayed at home with the children while women worked.

In ‘at work’ I really enjoyed seeing the Scottish girls working at the ‘Herring Harvest at Yarmouth‘ in 1910. This is truly amazing footage where the viewer can see how young these girls were, how hard they worked and their agility when cleaning the fish. The camaraderie between the girls was very clear too. ‘Nine Dalmuir West‘ from 1962 showing one of the last of Glasgow’s trams being driven by a female driver was really evocative of a lost Glasgow too. Glasgow was one of the only cities to keep on female drivers on its trams in the post-war years, or so the film tells us. I loved footage of the driver with her platform heeled shoes. The fashion and clothes were excellent in many of the films.

Finally in ‘Horizons’ ‘A Day in the Home‘ from 1951 was a brilliant account of a woman’s daily routine from waking up to going to sleep, looking after ‘baby’ and her two older daughters. Her husband headed off first thing and arrived back at dinner time. This was an obviously prosperous home and yet life for the mum (we don’t learn her name) was still difficult with the list of chores in the house including cleaning (everything from brushing out the fireplace to sweeping the floors, lifting rugs and hoovering)  and cooking (all from scratch) near endless. She got an afternoon off, when her sister came round to look after baby, and she went to a sewing meeting where she did her mending. Her evening relaxation was more sewing.

The film was introduced by Girlhood Gang aka Hannah Walters and Amanda Ptolomey who provided insightful and interesting comments. They also contributed to a zine reflecting on ‘Her Century’. Hannah thought of her grandmother when watching ‘Red Skirts on Clydeside’ and I found myself doing the same. As Hannah states

‘by preserving the stories of working-class women’s lives – their work, homes, relationships, struggles and victories – their stories can travel. And through this preservation, their names can be remembered, celebrated, spoken aloud’.

Amanda in focusing in who was included in the films also states that Her Century ‘can challenge us’ by making us think about ‘the expectations and understandings of girls and women that continue to impact the culture we live in’. For Amanda, it can make us ‘think about who we don’t see in the footage, and what it tells us about who is and isn’t valued in our culture’. I couldn’t agree more.

You can watch the trailer here:

Her Century: Scottish Women on Film (captioned) from Shona Thomson on Vimeo.

The film is touring Scotland till March next year. The next couple of screenings will be at Dunoon Film Festival on 10 November and Boness Hippodrome on 21 November and I’d thoroughly recommend attending.

For a full list of screening see – https://www.filmhubscotland.com/projects/current/her-century/

Her Century is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network and funded by BFI and Screen Scotland. In partnership with the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive. 

Dr Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

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