The Dundee and St Andrews Film Society

Cover for the Film Society programme in 1965-66. Courtesy of St Andrews University Special Collections.

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 (Sight and Sound, 1936, 52). Films were transported by car and ferry across the Firth of Tay.

The society emerged at a moment of growing interest in film culture, both within St Andrews (which since 1930 had housed two cinemas) and throughout Britain. The Film Society of Glasgow (founded in 1929) already boasted between 800 and 900 members, while further up the East coast from St. Andrews the newly formed Aberdeen Film Society (founded in 1931) had quickly amassed 750 subscriptions. Its meetings had also attracted guest lecturers such as German film-maker Lotte Reiniger and the Scottish ‘father of British documentary’, John Grierson (1936, 52).

Within a year, the membership for Dundee and St Andrews Film Society had increased by 100, but the society found itself ‘still in the unique position among Scottish Film Societies of facing financial difficulties’ (Sight and Sound, 1937, 169). This led to a successful drive for new members and by mid-1938 the society had ‘confidently re-established itself’ (The Scotsman, 1938, 13).

The society faced a further obstacle in 1939 when the St Andrews Magistrates refused to grant permission for film showings on Sundays. The society 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. The society was forced to move all meetings to Dundee.

Despite this, the early 1940s saw a significant swell in membership. The society now contributed to the war-time effort by inviting members of the armed forces to attend screenings (The Citizen, Nov. 1940, 4). By 1941, it was reportedly ‘the largest active film society in the country’ with around 700 paying patrons, perhaps indicative both of the fervour with which Dundonians and St. Andreans embraced the Society and the effect of World War Two on societies in the major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh (The Citizen, 1941, 5).

Rising member numbers continued to set records during the war and following the conclusion of the conflict they had reached a stage at which a separation between the Dundee and St. Andrews cinephilic communities became both feasible and advisable from a practical standpoint (The Citizen, 1942, 2). Two years after the conclusion of World War Two, the St. Andrews Film Society convened its first session. By 1950, membership for St Andrews was recorded at 650 (The Citizen, 1950, 4).

The Society was a well-established part of the town by the 1950s and the society’s committee boasted prominent local St. Andreans, such as J.K. Robertson (Society Secretary and Editor of the St. Andrews Citizen). While screenings were held throughout at the New Picture House (N.P.H.) on North Street, the society connected more closely to the University during this period. In 1953 it organised a lecture in School III of United College from Marie Seton on her ‘personal friend’ Sergei Eisenstein. In the same year, the Lord Rector of the University (and Earl of Crawford and Balcarres) David Lindsay accepted Honorary Presidency of the Society.

In 1962-1963 the film society’s numbers breached the 1000 mark for the first time. This was a feat which the society’s Chairman J. R. Gray described as ‘extremely encouraging at a time when other societies were facing reduced membership and financial difficulties’ (The Citizen, 1963, 5). 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 (again reflective of the ‘Town and Gown’ dynamic of the society) to help ease congestion.

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


Works cited:

Film Societies of Scotland: Growth of an Active Movement, 1938. The Scotsman, 19 April 1938, p. 13.

Reports for 1935-36 from B.F.I. Branches, Scotland, Religious Film Societies and Film Societies, 1936: Summer. Sight and Sound, 5:18, p. 52.

Scotland, 1936/1937: Winter. Sight and Sound, 5:20, p. 169.

War Time Meetings For Young Men and Women, New Picture House, 1940. St. Andrews Citizen, 3 Feb. p. 8.

Film Society, 1940. St. Andrews Citizen, 2 Nov. p. 4.

Progressive Film Society, 1941. St. Andrews Citizen, 20 Sep. p. 5.

Film Society’s Record Membership, 1942. St. Andrews Citizen, 19 Sep. p. 2.

News from the Societies, 1942: Winter. Sight and Sound, 11: 43, p. 81.

Meeting of Federation of Scottish Film Societies, 1950. St. Andrews Citizen, 15 Apr. p. 4.

Film Society Annual General Meeting, 1963. St. Andrews Citizen, 24 May. p. 5.