In the BFI's Treasures from the Archive series Fires Were Started holds a unique position - it's the only full length documentary included among the 360 films. As part of the BFI Film Classics tie-in to the series, Brian Winston attempts to explain why.
He makes a pretty good job of it too, particularly considering that Lindsey Anderson was originally slated to do the job but died before he could start. Winston works his way through the various approaches to the film: Jennings as auteur, the historical background, production history etc. He's particularly good at presenting the problem of defining what sort of documentary the film is, if indeed it is a documentary when most of it was staged.
The book doesn't skirt around the difficulties modern audiences have with the amateur actors or the occasional naff line. It excuses them as necessary for the pseudo-realism of the film and explains the background of how performances were coaxed from the actors.
This is one of the best books in the series and is an apt tribute to a great representative of one of the few genres that Britain has dominated.
Price: £7.99 $12.95Fires Were Started: available at Amazon UK