This film is held by the BFI (ID: 23258).


First of Brunel's burlesques. All parts played by Adrian Brunel.



Although produced at a cost of £80, Crossing the Great Sagrada had a pre-release showing at the London Tivoli and ran at ‘hundreds of theatres throughout the United Kingdom’ (Close Up,October 1928, 44). Adrian Brunel, who had previously set up Minerva Films in 1920 with amongst others Leslie Howard, A.A. Milne and C. Aubrey Smith, produced, directed and starred in the film, which was the first of Brunel’s ‘inexpensive burlesques’ (Low, 1971, 149).

The film was produced at Bushey and Brunel explained its low budget in his book Film Production: ‘[the film] was about thirty per cent titles, fifty percent cut-outs from old travel films and twenty per cent original material – a disgracefully large percentage of titles for an ordinary film, but for this type of picture it is forgivable’ (Brunel, 1936, 88). Indeed Brunel recommended ‘this type of film’ to student filmmakers and Rachael Low suggested that Brunel’s burlesques ‘appealed especially to those in the film trade’ (Low, 1971, 149). The film even appeared as part of the Film Society programme in 1927, after a culture series film on the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and a screening of Polikushka (1922), which was shown ‘courtesy of the International Workers’ relief fund’ (Film Society Programmes, 1972, 59).

Brunel, who claimed that he received no money from his renters for the film, was commissioned by Michael Balcon and C. M. Woolf to produce five more burlesques in 1925. His budget now increased to £150 a film, yet by his own admission, Crossing the Great Sagrada remained the best known of his ‘ultra-cheap’ films. The film’s title was a direct reference to Crossing the Great Sahara, Angus Buchanan’s filmed record of his expedition across the Sahara, which played in London during the first half of 1924. 



As a spoof on popular travel films, Crossing the Great Sagrada highlights what it perceives as stereotypes of this genre. The ‘intrepid explorers – Holmes – Sweet and Holmes’ are immediately defined by their costumes. One is dressed in a fur coat and hat, another as a colonial figure all dressed in white, with monocle, hat and nose raised, while the third wears a kilt. The film depicts a rich, greedy benefactor, and gently mocks the grandiose nature of these travel films, announcing at the film’s conclusion that ‘thus ends another chapter of All-British heroism’. The film also plays on the educational function of the travel film, as it offers maps, first with ‘a diagram of the direction in which we were going’ and then later with a ‘diagram of the direction in which we thought we were going.’ This title is followed by a map of the train stations of London.

Brunel explained the nature of this humour in Film Production: ‘It lies in the unexpectedness of the shot that follows each introduction in title or spoken word’ (Brunel, 1936, 88). Yet while the disparity between the image and title produces the comedy – so that for example a title announcing Blackfriars Bridge ‘crowded with mid-day traffic’ is followed by two ‘natives’ walking gingerly over a rope bridge in Papua – this comedy relies on, and highlights, a number of assumptions about these colonial travel films.

First, the film foregrounds the division between the authoritarian voice and the ‘real’ images, so that the title ‘Some native fishermen’ precedes an image of a fishmonger’s shop advertising ‘Special Today Torbay Soles’. The film thus relies on the audience questioning the information provided by the titles. Many travel films may exaggerate the images through the intertitles, but Crossing the Great Sagrada also derives humour from devaluing the ethnographic shots so that, for example, a shot of mud huts in Africa is described as ‘Wapping’.

Secondly, the film highlights the artificiality of these colonial narratives. The film represents Blackpool beach as the desert, but more significantly uses and re-appropriates stock footage within a consciously fictional narrative. In doing this, the film reveals the widely used ethnographic shots used to represent Africa, and highlights some of the popular misrepresentations of Africa. The film shows topless African women (‘we stayed here some time’) and then a local African male (‘but we left rather hurriedly’) as it produces comedy from the cultural stereotype of the ‘dangerous’ and ‘wild’ African. A censor certificate for what appears to be ‘Cannibals of the South Seas’, the 1912 faux documentary from Martin and Osa Johnson, flashes on screen during these ethnographic shots. The film thus displays the process of producing ethnographic and travel films and, through its blatant artificiality, questions the authenticity of these colonial documentaries.

Tom Rice (March 2008)


Works Cited

Brunel, Adrian, ‘Experiments in Ultra-Cheap Cinematography’, Close Up Vol. III no. 4, October 1928.

Brunel, Adrian, Film Production (London: Newnes, 1936).

The Film Society Programmes, 1925-1939 (New York: Arno Press, 1972).

Low, Rachael, The History of the British Film 1918-1929 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1971).




Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
935 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
BRUNEL, Adrian
cast member
BRUNEL, Adrian
cast member
RICH, Lionel
Production Company