British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Screening Sylvia Pankhurst

In the teens and twenties the members of the Pankhurst family became figureheads for the suffragette movement. Ceri Dingle describes the making of her new ‘crowd film’ about Sylvia Pankhurst. Dr Steven Poole, University of the West of England, provides an analysis of the finished documentary, now available on DVD, here.

About the Author: Ceri Dingle is Director of WORLDwrite, an education charity with an uncompromising commitment to global equality whose campaigning slogan is ‘Ferraris for all’. WORLDwrite campaigns for change using film and through an online news channel WORLDbytes. Ceri established a documentary film training facility for young volunteers and the charity’s campaigning channel WORLDbytes. She has assisted young volunteers in producing over 100 challenging programmes in the past year. She directed a series of 5 documentaries entitled Pricking the Missionary Position shot in Ghana, West Africa as well as the films Flush it and Corruptababble which have been taken up by educational institutions globally.

We had not set out to ‘crowd film’ but that’s what happened and it became an epic affair

We started making a documentary about Sylvia Pankhurst with volunteers for a short ‘making history’ programme for our Citizen TV channel WORLDbytes. But it couldn’t be done; we just couldn’t do justice to this amazing woman in a fifteen-minute slot. Plus, so many wanted to be involved: young people who’d heard of her -although it usually transpired they meant her mother Emmeline (the acceptable suffragette); older citizens; and organisations with suffrage connections. We had not set out to ‘crowd film’ but that’s what happened and it became an epic affair. Sylvia we suspect would have approved, her approach was always to turn outwards, involve as many as possible and win the arguments. Sylvia was expelled from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) the suffragette organisation established in 1903 by her mother Emmeline, for her opposition to World War 1 and taking up ‘other issues’ especially support for the Dublin lockout and Irish freedom. Consequently she set up her own East London Federation and set out to win the mass of working class people in London’s impoverished East End to the cause, not simply of votes for women but for universal suffrage and ultimately complete social transformation. Her mother’s elite organisation by contrast wanted no truck with the lower orders and stopped campaigning to support the war effort.

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