These days school children have access to an almost unlimited range of audio visual material to expand their knowledge and hopefully shape their social responsibility. Much of it can be downloaded via the internet and viewed on a variety of devices. There was a time however when today’s digital technology was just a science fiction fantasy and the 16mm educational film was the predominant teaching aid.
This was the 40s, 50s and 60s, an era which saw the production of literally thousands of educational films, eagerly anticipated by millions of school kids as a diversion from the usual classroom grind. It’s a genre of movie making that is often forgotten these days, but not in the case of celluloid archivists Miss Death and Jay Katz from Annandale’s Mu-Meson Archives. Over the years they have amassed a huge library of these long forgotten gems, highlights from which they will be sharing at the upcoming Sydney Underground Film Festival.
With the introduction of video and the digitisation of film, many institutions started to discard their 16mm copies, often tossing them by the skip load. As well as purchasing a number from eBay, Miss Death and Katz were often gifted some classic titles from individuals who had inherited dad’s 16mmm film collection. With 16mm film now a defunct format, educational shorts are now a scarce item, not to mention their prized collectability.
Miss Death vividly recalls the impact that these films had on her during her early school days.
“My dad used to take my sisters and myself to fish and play on the rocks at Mrs Macquarie’s chair every Sunday. Once I got to see a film called Blue Ringed Octopus at school and the dangers of being bitten by them (i.e. death). It put an end to those happy and care free Sundays and death lurked in every rock pool from then on. I now own it on 16 mm film.”
Today their educational film collection includes titles from all over the world with many from the US and the UK, but some also from Scandinavia as well as some notable homegrown productions. An Australian film which particularly resonates with Miss Death is the somewhat grizzly titled Hands Off.
“The title triggered something in me and I purchased it without synopsis. As soon as it started I was propelled back to the mid 70s, there in the class room with the sound of the projector and vision of kids blown up by hand grenades, unexploded shells collected from artillery ranges and railway detonators (a favourite pastime for kids back then),” Miss Death recalls.
For this year’s Sydney Underground Film Festival Miss Death and Jay Katz have curated a very special program of vintage educational safety films under the title of Shake Hands With Danger. You’ll see what they consider the real cream of the crop along with their own acerbic commentary. These are films designed to scare the pants off kids and keep them safe from horrific car accidents, playing with fireworks, illegal drug use and the nightmare that is ‘Stranger Danger’ – to name just a few. The title of this program Shake Hands With Danger is of particular note, dealing with heavy machinery and industrial accidents The opening lyrics read:
“Any guy oughta know/ I used to laugh at safety/ But now they call me… Three Finger Joe.”
‘Shake Hands With Danger’ streams on Thursday 9 September with tickets available here.
Check out the entire remarkable program for the Sydney Underground Film Festival, which runs from Thursday 9th until Sunday 26th September 2021 at www.suff.com.au