The St Andrews Film Society

Founded in October 1935 with an initial intake of 250 members, the Dundee and St Andrews Film Society would quickly establish itself as one of the foremost film societies in Scotland. Its first season saw the screening of four film programmes, with screenings held in the afternoon in St Andrews and then in Dundee in the evening. Films were transported by car and ferry across the Firth of Tay.


filmsocietySt Andrews Film Society Documents

By 1941 the Dundee and St Andrews Film Society was reportedly ‘the largest active film society in the country’ with around 700 paying patrons. The society now contributed to the wartime effort by inviting members of the armed forces to attend screenings. As the society continued to grow, plans were announced to separate from Dundee and two years after the conclusion of war, the St Andrews Film Society convened its first session. By 1950, membership for St Andrews was recorded at 650.

The Society was a well-established part of the town by the 1960s and the society’s committee included prominent local residents, such as J.K. Robertson (Society Secretary and Editor of the St Andrews Citizen). In 1962-1963 the film society’s numbers breached the 1000 mark for the first time. This was a feat that the society’s Chairman J. R. Gray described as ‘extremely encouraging at a time when other societies were facing reduced membership and financial difficulties’. By 1964-65 membership was ‘limited to 1025’, giving some indication of the continued level of interest in the town. Also apparent within the film society’s programmes are the basic practicalities of dealing with this demand. The ‘How To Join’ section outlines the availability of Film Society registration at both the St Andrews Information Office and the University Students’ Union (reflective of the ‘Town and Gown’ dynamic of the society) to help ease congestion.

The programmes reveal that screenings were held throughout this period on Sundays at the New Picture House (N.P.H.) on North Street. However, this had not always been the case. In 1939 the St Andrews Magistrates refused to grant permission for film showings on Sundays. The society had offered to move its afternoon meeting from 2.30 to 3.30 in order to avoid clashing with church services, but the request was again denied. As a result, the society had been forced to move all meetings to Dundee.

The film society would fade in the 1970s. However, its longevity within the town is indicative of the town’s interest and engagement with international cinema and film culture. This interest has been fostered and consolidated by the more recent establishment of the Department of Film Studies at the University in 2004.

James Erwin & Tom Rice University of St Andrews

About the Digitisation

The Film Society programmes are housed at the University of St Andrews Special Collections and have been digitised as part of the Department of Film Studies’ Cinema St Andrews project. The Cinema St Andrews project is run by Dr Tom Rice and Dr Joshua Yumibe. Special thanks to Moira Mackenzie, Department of Special Collections, for overseeing the digitisation.