Wilma De Jong
Wilma is currently a lecturer at the University of Sussex where she teaches Documentary Theory and Practice on BA and MA level (MA Digital Documentary). Before entering the teaching profession she owned an independent film company in Amsterdam for 14 years and produced, directed and wrote films for broadcasters, government and charities. She has won several prizes for her films including Gold at the New York Festival and the Dutch Film Festival. Last year she published, together with Thomas Austin, an edited book called Rethinking Documentary (Open University) and is currently working on a longer version of 'Meanwhile back at the Ranch' as well as on a book called 'Creative Documentary' which will be published by Pearson in 2011.
Interview with Wilma De Jong
Why did you decide to be part of the ATT project?

I liked the concept of Against the Tide: using archive footage in a non- illustrative way, relate the archive footage to the present and this all in three minutes. It was an exciting and at the same time daunting challenge.

What came first the archive or the story?

The Archive. I trawled through the website of the Screen Archive South East and found the footage shot by Enid Briggs straight away. There were not many female amateur filmmaker in the early part of the 20th century so I was intrigued and wanted to know more about her. She was introduced to me as an 'old spinster' who shot films about Broadstairs. That really got me going!

What were you looking for in the archive?

I was not looking for anything . I just watched the tapes and tried to figure what kind of events Enid Briggs had chosen to film and how she filmed these events. I quickly discovered that horses, the sea and beach life, friends and some special public events featured strongly in her work.

What appealed to you about the particular footage you have chosen?

How she filmed women and her passion for horses. I found quite a lot of footage about horse shows and some from the Ranch which was not available via the South East Film Archive. Doing more research and finding Ken Taylor, who used to be a stable boy at the Ranch, changed the focus of the project. She might have been a keen amateur filmmaker but Enid Briggs¿ main passion and occupation in her life was horses. She owned a Home for Old and Retired Horses in Broadstairs at a time when horses were being phased out of society and being replaced by what she describes as 'motor lorries'.

After watching the footage, reading her books about her horses, I felt that I started to know her a bit and recognized something in her as I'm a keen horse rider myself and a filmmaker. Only I am not as wealthy as she obviously was. Obviously it was very expensive to shoot 16 mm films in the 1930s.

Did the archive footage change the way you shot the film? How?

No, the research changed the way I shot the film. When I had found Ken Taylor, who was one of the stable boys at the Ranch and the story of their friendship emerged, I decided that it should be a very conventional piece. Nothing choppy or very modern. Design and font choice is also conventional. Ken Taylor is a fascinating and lively man of 84 years of age, who told me many stories about Miss Briggs and how they kept in touch for such a long time. I had found a bit of extra silent, colour archive footage and on top of the silent, black and white footage from the South East Film Archive.. I have tried to use the footage in different ways: First of all I started the piece with the archive footage and then moved on to the present. The effect was that the archive footage was a short introduction but did not relate very well to the rest of the story about Ken and Miss Briggs. Subsequently I tried to give Enid Briggs a voice in the film, by using sentences out of her books as narration under the archive footage . Thus creating 'a story in a story' structure as we could see and hear Miss Briggs' story and Ken's story. This form was too complex and too confusing for a 3 minutes film. At the end I created two separate archive sequences; one about the Ranch which is silent/ colour footage and features Ken Taylor as a boy of around 4 years old. A second sequence about one of Enid Brigg's favourite places: the beach in Broadstairs which consists of silent ,black and white footage and features Miss Enid Briggs. . These shots have most likely been shot by Enid Briggs' sister. The second archive sequence introduces the historical, cultural context and beach life in the 1930s I have tried to create very short sequences throughout the film but that did not work either as the black and white footage clashed with the recently shot colour footage and it became very confusing.. I also thought that the audience needed time to get into the archive sequences, to enter that past world and then needed time to get back into the present again as well.

What's the film about, for you?

It is a story about an unusual friendship between two people which lasted for 35 years as well as a piece about class relations in the UK. What rights issues did you encounter with the archive?

Sorting out the rights took up actually quite a lot of time as Enid Briggs' estate was left to the Isle of Thanet Photographic Society , who partly donated footage to the South East Film Archive and some war footage to The Imperial War Museum . The publishers of her books did not exist anymore or had merged with other publishers, none of these new big firms had ever heard of her or the books with the photos. I had found the books in an antiquariate . It became clear that every thing s Enid Briggs had produced was part of the estate left to the Isle of Thanet Photographic Society. I found addition footage on a DVD owned by Ken Taylor but this footage came from the Isle of Thanet Photographic Society originally.

How did you find your participant/s?

I joined websites discussing the history of Broadstairs, put adds in all the papers of the Isle of Thanet and phoned Parish Councils, libraries, and services/homes for elderly people. I wanted to find someone who actually knew Miss Briggs in the time she owned the Ranch or as a filmmaker . This person had to be elderly as Miss Briggs died in 1973 and the Ranch was closed in the mid sixties. I found several people who had parents who knew her but via a local historian ( Barrie Woottan) I found Ken Taylor , who first met Miss Briggs in 1935 when he was about 10 years old. Their friendship lasted for more than 35 years. This was such a lovely and significant story.

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A lifelong friendship with an unexpected outcome.
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