Song of Ceylon: Antiquarian Gem — a documentary film from 1934 with Lionel Wendt as Narrator

Firazath Hussain: “This 40 minute black and white  film  was made in 1934 on request to advertise tea. The film that was made was regarded as a prize winning documentary. Lionel Wendt did the narration, most of which was simply reading excerpts of Knox over the visuals. The camera work in many places is quite stunning. Perhaps, some day, someone will see fit to work a digital restoration of something that is quite a unique piece of history.”



Part 1 – the Buddha. Scenes of dark jungle with glimpses of animals, ruined temples and tropical vegetation (180), devil dancers perform (270), commentary explains that then came Buddha. Pilgrims traversing the slopes of Adam’s Peak from where it is believed that Buddha departed from Earth. The pilgrims reach the summit and sit down to rest, celebrating with chants and recitations in Buddha’s honour (575), carving and statues of Buddha (646), the pilgrims greet the first…


The Song of Ceylon originated from an Empire Marketing Board (EMB) commission to produce four travelogues for the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board.  Late in December 1933 John Grierson despatched Basil Wright and John Taylor to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to produce these four short films. Although expected to broadly cover the island’s life and industry, the Tea Board gave Wright a free hand as director – no scenario was written.With no clearly stated corporate…


At the EMB Grierson focused on documentary films’ ability to explore the present day –stylistically and thematically. He wanted to draw attention to the underlying interconnections between people in the modern world, and this ambition fitted with the notion of the Empire as an interdependent ‘commonwealth of nations’ advocated by the head of the EMB film unit Stephen Tallents, amongst others. The 19th century monarchist pageantry of the EMB’s first film…

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Filed under British colonialism, citizen journalism, cultural transmission, performance, photography, pilgrimages, sri lankan society, travelogue, unusual people, world affairs

One response to “Song of Ceylon: Antiquarian Gem — a documentary film from 1934 with Lionel Wendt as Narrator

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