This film is held by the BFI (ID: 21658).


EXPEDITIONS. Record of the journey made by film director Walter Summers and his crew in three motor coaches of the Trans-Saharienne Company across the Algerian Sahara en route for Timbuctoo in French Sudan for the making of his feature film TIMBUCTOO (1932).

Rl.1. "BRITISH INTERNATIONAL PICTURES LTD. presents Across The Sahara THE RECORD OF A JOURNEY TO TIMBUCTOO 19©32" (36). "The Commentator CAPTAIN WALTER SUMMERS F.R.G.S. Distributed by WARDOUR FILMS LIMITED" (56). Map of the journey undertaken, showing the route across the Sahara from Oran in Algeria to Timbuctoo (124). View of one of the motor coaches used on the journey with a woman sitting on a fender talking to two other European men, one of whom is the driver (129). View of the rocky desert terrain at Colomb Bechar (138). Three views of the fort at Beni Abbes, with very few people visible (162). Two views of the local barren terrain taken from the fort ramparts (191). ELS of an Arab standing beneath one of the fort's gateways, with another sitting on the ground to one side (202). Desert terrain (212). ELS of same people from 124-129 talking to an Arab (224). Panning shot of the desert taken from a high vantage point with mountains in the distance (246). A motor coach being driven towards the camera through the desert (265). ELS of the three motor coaches with people standing around them (282). LS of the three drivers (two Frenchmen and an Austrian) standing together, lighting cigarettes and looking at the camera. One is in Arab dress. Two are wearing topees and the other a flat cap (318). Group of empty petrol cans clustered around a sign post (332). CU of the sign "PISTE ESTIENNE GAO 1050KM REGGAN 250KM ADRAR KM" with arrows pointing in the relevant directions (345). Two of the motor coaches in the far distance travelling across the desert (364). A dried up river bed (375). Three glass bottles sticking up through the sand (379). Tyre tracks in the sand (390). The fort at Reggan[e] in the distance (401). Two closer shots of the fort, with no people visible (409). CU of sign "Colomb Bechar 740K ORAN 1490K" with arrows pointing (423). CU of another sign "Roule GRADIS BOUREM 1200 Km" with a pointing arrow (430). Shot of an open gateway at the fort (437). ELS of three men standing next to the coaches (451). Series of views of the village of Taourirt (?) comprised of mud-brick buildings. A few people with goats are visible (488). Series of mounds of earth that disappear into the distance which surround the bored holes that lead down into the village's water supply tunnel (499). Closer shot of some of the mounds (502). View down one of the holes showing a faint trickle of water below (511). A small stream (522). Local desert terrain (527). Motor coach driving past a canvas airplane indicator (536). A high-angle view of the above indicator [these indicators are laid every sixty miles to mark the route for airplanes over an otherwise featureless landscape] (546). Coach driving away from the camera towards some hills (557). Series of shots of the rocky and hilly landscape (594). ELS of one of the motor coaches at a waystation in the desert, Bidon Cinq, followed by a panning shot to show the flat featureless desert stretching for miles around (634). Closer shot of the waystation, showing it to be comprised of two old motor coaches, minus their wheels and mounted on old petrol cans. A European woman is looking through her luggage in front of one of the coaches (659). The bunk beds inside the coaches (671). ELS of the Arab attendant at the way station, called Ben Ali, who is sitting on the ground in front of a pile of old petrol cans (682). MS of Ben Ali (694). A petrol pump sticking out of the sand with a sign for "SHELL" on its top [the waystation also serves as a petrol filling station, the tanks being buried in the sand] (716). A motor coach driving away from the petrol pump into the far distance (751). Shot as per 671-682 (765ft).

Rl.2. [The nitrate on this reel has turned yellow to a considerable degree.] Three shots of a mud-brick fort at Tabankort in French Sudan. The French tricolour is flying from a tower (29). MS of the three Europeans who man the fort. They are not in uniform, but are wearing t-shirts and short-sleeved shirts, and all have topees (33). MCU of the French lieutenant who is in charge (41). MCU of one of the other Europeans at the fort (49). LS of the lieutenant standing in front of a group of Arabs from different tribes who help in the defense of the fort. All have rifles slung across their shoulders (61). Three MCUs of Arab tribesmen (75). Small herd of cattle being driven past the fort (86). Leather pouches of water being hauled up from a well using pulley systems (106). Panning shot taken from the well showing the herds of cattle waiting to be watered (142). Cattle and donkeys drinking from troughs made out of leather (164). Tablets of rock salt leaning against a wall of the fort with the lieutenant in the background (180). Arabs mounting their camels and riding away holding their rifles aloft (211). CU of the severed ears of bandits, who had been captured by the fort's Arab defenders, nailed to a wooden board (217). Group of Arabs sitting in a circle on the sand, with one pouring tea from a teapot into glasses and handing them around (250). Panning shot of the countryside to the south of Tabankort which has more hills and vegetation compared to that previously encountered (268). A running ostrich in the distance taken from a moving vehicle [a very shaky shot] (278). Gazelles running past the camera [not very clear owing to their speed and proximity to camera] (285). A hyena behind some bushes, thus being largely obscured from view (291). Man walking along a river bank waving his arms as thousands of butterflies swarm around him (305). Two street scenes in Gao, comprised of mud-brick buildings, with people walking around or sitting in the shade of trees. The streets are basically just sand, their being no roads as such (325). Men reclining or sitting on beds in a covered walkway (339). Shot of the River Niger (346). Group of young boys playing in the river (368). Panning CU of a boat made from strips of bark and sewn together with hemp and fibre (383). One of these boats being pushed away from the river bank and pushed along with poles once launched [All boats on the Niger in the following shots are navigated on the river by this method] (404). A large boat of this construction moving along the river with actors Henry Kendall and Victor Stanley standing in it (425). Sequence of the motor coaches being pulled across the river on pontoons. One of the coaches experiences difficulties when its pontoon founders. In the effort to pull the coach across it very nearly submerges, with only its roof visible at one stage. However, it is successful in reaching the river bank [see note following synopsis regarding this sequence] (587). One of the coaches driving away down a road watched by some natives in the foreground (610). Two of the coaches driving across a desert landscape (633). Panning shot of the Timbuctoo city scape, again being comprised of mud-brick buildings (663). Two coaches drive into the city and stop amidst a crowd of onlookers. The commentary says that they are the first "organised party" to arrive there for seven years (699). Series of street shots in Timbuctoo (the streets, again, just being of sand), with people walking around (810). High angle shot of the city's market place, this being a large open space with small groups of goats and donkeys, but no stalls (817). Three closer shots of activity in the market place, including a shot of a stall (842). Shot of the house in the city where Major Alexander Gordon Laing, the first European to visit Timbuctoo, was murdered (850). CU of a plaque on the wall of the house "TO MAJOR ALEXANDER GORDON LAING OF WEST INDIA REGIMENT FIRST EUROPEAN TO REACH TIMBUKTU 1825 FELL HERE IN 1826 ERECTED IN HIS HONOUR AND MEMORY BY THE AFRICAN SOCIETY LONDON 1930", the commentary adding "need I say he was an Englishman" (874). ELS of Father Yacuba (? the name is not clear on the soundtrack) waving from an upper story window of his house. An elderly man, he has a large white beard and wears a beret [he was once a monk/missionary, and had lived in Timbuktu for many years] (887). Closer shot of the man in his window waving at the camera (899). MS of the man's negro wife (910). MLS of the couple together (929). People walking in street (938). The mud-brick mosque, with a man in what passes for the minaret calling the faithful to prayer [the minaret is a small mud-brick tower] (948). Shot of the River Niger at sunset (983). "THE END" superimposed over the British International Pictures logo (1003) (1768ft).

Note: The location Reggan is spelt thus on the road sign seen in the film, but is now apparently spelt Reggane.

Henry Kendall, in his autobiography 'I Remember Romano's', discusses this expedition, and recalls the river where one of the coaches virtually disappears under water as being the Cavally River in the Ivory Coast, and not the Niger. However, Kendall's recollection of the journey may not be accurate, as the various stages of the journey as noted by him in his book would not appear to be in chronological order owing to the locations he cites.




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
on-screen participant
on-screen participant
STANLEY, S. Victor
Production Company
British International Pictures



Production Organisations