From Mr Allen Tobias.

Sir, Adam Curtis (“Real to Reel”, September 17) mistakenly attributes the invention of the documentary to John Grierson and others “ ... in Britain in the 1930s”.

Sergei Eisenstein circa 1925

Grierson did coin the term “documentary” in his 1926 review of a film by the American Robert Flaherty and he continued to advocate purpose-built, tightly scripted, socially themed, sponsored film of real life and incident. He had earlier been a student of the psychology of propaganda at various American universities.

Grierson’s debut film, Drifters, a study of the hard and heroic life of North Sea herring fishermen, produced by the Empire Marketing Board, was a popular and artistic success in 1929.

The origins of the documentary are inherent in the technique and capacity of the motion picture camera, however. In 1895 the Lumière brothers in France publicly exhibited 10 shorts with subjects including workers leaving a factory, blacksmiths at a forge and bathers in the sea.

In Russia, both Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov produced greatly acclaimed documentaries in the course of revolution, civil war and their aftermath.

Allen Tobias, Brooklyn, NY, US

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