Monash University
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History of Victorian film societies as exemplified by the Camberwell film society

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posted on 2017-02-22, 23:52 authored by Jenkins, Dorothy Mavis
This thesis is a study of the history of Victorian film societies as exemplified, by the Camberwell Film Society, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The study was prompted by the paucity of philosophical and conceptual literature about film societies. As a result, little is known about how and why they were formed. The purpose of this study is to investigate these issues. During the 1950s there was an upsurge of interest in the formation of film societies in the state of Victoria. By the 1990s, the Victorian film society movement had undergone a cyclical pattern of periods of exciting growth followed by episodes of stasis or declining interest. The Camberwell Film Society was selected for the study because it has functioned continuously from its founding in the mid-1950s to the 1990s, emulating these patterns of growth. It remains a viable film society in 2014. Three themes establish the framework for the thesis. These are: the connections between three factors, globalism, localism and film; the contribution of Camberwell’s socioeconomic context to the creation of a place conducive to the founding of a film society and, the role of adult, self-directed learning in a community environment, particularly following WW2. Like leitmotivs, these themes recur throughout the study. The study contends that the genesis of film societies lies in the 1890s with the development of machines such as the Kinematograph and Kinetoscope: the former captured moving images, the latter projected these images onto a screen for public viewing. These inventions were the catalysts for the establishment of the film industry which quickly developed into an international entity. Driven by a profit motive, the earliest movies were produced for entertainment purposes. Gradually, diversity of product crept into the film industry, prompting discerning viewers to distinguish between the concepts of film for entertainment/business and film as art. By the early 1920s film groups and ciné-clubs, precursors of film societies, were forming, keen to pursue the notion of cinema as art. Film societies evolved from these early groups. The film society movement grew rapidly in Europe and Britain and, eventually, internationally. These early societies were described as being non-profit, voluntary, community groups in which membership was by subscription. One of the significant and enduring features of film societies is that they not viii only screen films but they also provide opportunities for engaging with, and studying the films, through post-screening discussion sessions. Another feature is the passionate attachment of core society members to the filmic world. In many cases, the ongoing management and success of a society are attributable to these core members. These features became the characteristics of traditional film societies. The study found that, formed in the mid-1950s, the Camberwell Film Society demonstrates the characteristics of a traditional film society. It is concluded that reasons for the formation of films societies include the production of appropriate filmic product, the existence of a community or group of people who are passionate about film and wish to share this passion with others and, the desire to participate in, and learn more, as part of a filmic educational culture.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jane Southcott

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education