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Robert Gardner

Robert Gardner, Benares, India, 1984. Photo: Jane Tuckerman.

IN 1987, shortly after the death of Basil Wright, a pioneering figure in British cinema, Robert Gardner wrote a brief tribute praising Wright’s “truly transforming cinematic vision” and dubbing him the “quiet poet of film.” A generation and an ocean apart, these two nonfiction filmmakers had nevertheless shared a deep commitment to recasting documentary practice, ostensibly the most normative form of film, into a vehicle for personal expression. In an elegant turn of phrase, Gardner wrote of his profound gratitude for Wright’s Song of Ceylon (1934), which revealed “how moving, moving pictures could be.” Yet at the same time, he could not help wondering whether Wright had ever been properly acknowledged by the British “film establishment,” which—like its American counterpart—was “almost wholly preoccupied with the ‘story’ film, its stars, its budgets, and its gossips.”

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