This film is held by the BFI (ID: 21682).


A film addressing the geographical conditions, agriculture, and industries within British Guiana.

A title explains that 'the low marshy coast of British Guiana is alluvium' as cattle stand in the marshy land. The film then shows local homes - 'most of the cottages are raised on piles to avoid the pervading damp' - before outlining the various sea defences, including the sluice gates, used on the island. Further irrigation systems are then shown. The next title states that 'RICE, which grows in water, is an important crop'. Local women cut down the crop, before three processes of threshing are presented. First, the men beat the crop, then the rice is trodden by oxen, and finally in the 'latest method' a machine is used. The sugar plantations of Demerara are shown next, with locals working on the land - supervised by a European man - and then enjoying a break. The cane is transported in metal pontoons drawn by mules, before a crane lifts the load. The next shots depict local boys climbing coconut trees - 'on the East coast estates, agile boys climb the coconut trees and throw down the fruit' - and then locals split open the coconuts, which are dried into copra. This is followed by market scenes in the capital, Georgetown, which include shots of the local villagers selling fruit and vegetables at the side of the road. At the docks, the rice and sugar is loaded for export to England and Canada, and after further street scenes, the film concludes - as it began - with a shot of a cow in the marshy land.



Although no director and crew are listed for British Guiana, it seems likely that the film uses footage taken by Basil Wright on his filming expedition to the West Indies in 1933. Rachael Low explained that Wright travelled to the West Indies in 1933 making films ‘which were entirely his own, shot, edited and made by him directly’ (Low, 1979, 60). These included Windmill in Barbados and Cargo for Jamaica for the Empire Marketing Board.

Wright referred to his ‘very rushed tour of the West Indies and British Guiana’ in Cinema Quarterly in the summer of 1933, while the Colonial Office’s annual report for British Guiana in 1933 lists under its ‘visits to the colony’, ‘Basil Wright, Esquire, Empire Marketing Board’ (Cinema Quarterly, Summer 1933, 227, Annual Report for British Guiana, 1933, 41). The Empire Marketing Board was disbanded in 1933, but a number of the films, including Wright’s Song of Ceylon (1934), were completed at the newly-formed GPO Film Unit, which was staffed mainly by former EMB filmmakers. However, Wright seemingly had little awareness of the completed film, as when he praised the documentary El Dorado in 1952, he suggested that this new film ‘reveals British Guiana for the first time on any screen’ (Sight and Sound, Jan/March 1952, 128).

British Guiana was screened during the ‘Exhibition of Kinematography’ in November 1934, as part of a selection of GPO films (The Photographic Journal, 1935, 141). Monthly Film Bulletin listed British Guiana as an educational film ‘adequate for younger children of 10 to 14 years’ and was not overly complimentary in its review – ‘the photography suffers from a few badly lighted patches, but is otherwise clear in a straightforward way’ – highlighting problems with lighting, which Wright also noted in his short account of filming in the West Indies (MFB, September 1934, 63). ‘One of the biggest problems was that of being forced to shoot in the middle of the day’, Wright stated, adding that the ‘shadows kill all detail’. After ‘rubbing the face and arms of the subject [West Indians] with butter or oil’, Wright concluded that the scenes should be staged in the shade, using a number of reflectors (Cinema Quarterly, Summer 1933, 227).

The 1930s saw a period of heightened West Indian nationalism and extreme industrial and political unrest across the Caribbean colonies. While the Great Depression contributed to a slump in sugar prices and increased unemployment, workers responded with rebellions and strikes throughout the area. In September 1934 there were strikes on five sugar estates on the West Coast of Demerara in British Guiana, and in September and October 1935 there was a wider series of riots on sugar estates. The end of the decade was marked by a major strike at the plantation Leonora in British Guiana (Johnson, 1999, 604-5). 



Although little is known for certain about the production history of this film, some of the images and shots within British Guiana certainly invite comparisons with Basil Wright’s concurrent work in the Caribbean. However, the subsequent editing and titling of this footage re-contextualises these often striking images of local life into a geographical film aimed at children.

Titles offer simple factual information, noting that ‘the country is protected by lines of dykes, known as sea-defences’, and ‘RICE, which grows in water, is an important crop’. Indeed the titles make virtually no mention of the local people depicted on screen, although there is evidence of the broader social problems. There are scenes showing the local social conditions and homes – a title here notes that ‘most of the cottages are raised on piles to avoid the pervading damp’ – and sequences presenting the local men and women at work, under European supervision, but again these are introduced by a broad, geographical title, ‘The SUGAR plantations of Demerara cover vast areas’. This sequence also features workers enjoying a break and eating. The camera here is positioned alongside the locals at their level, encouraging the audience to empathise and identify with them. The viewer is also positioned alongside the locals in the crowd scenes at the market, which display the minutiae of local life. We see locals passing by on horse and cart, by bike and on foot, carrying baskets on their heads, chatting and selling their fruit and vegetables, while a policeman in uniform stands by.

The titles present the film as a study of the natural landscape and industries of British Guiana – although there is no mention of the bauxite industry – and within this framework they promote the modern British developments within the area. First, the constructed sea defences are shown from a variety of angles – locals climb up and work on these, while some European men direct and supervise – highlighting the modern British responses to local problems. Next, when showing the rice industry, the film reveals three methods for collecting the rice. The first, performed by locals, is described as ‘this primitive method of threshing’, before the film shows a second method (oxen treading on the rice) and finally ‘the latest method’, in which a European man supervises a local man operating a machine. The film clearly aligns the British with modern technological advances, highlighting the disparity, but also the connections, between the ‘primitive’ and ‘modern’ methods. This is again evident in the next scene as two locals with a mule carry the cane along the water, before ‘a crane lifts out the entire load and swings it round to the factory’.

The second half of the film follows more closely the conventions of the industrial process film as the narrative concludes with the shipping of these products to England and throughout the Empire. This again relates the film directly to Britain and, as with many of the Empire Marketing Board films, promotes a message of imperial trade.

Tom Rice (September 2008)


Works Cited

Colonial Office, Annual Report for British Guiana, 1933 (1933).

Johnson, Howard, ‘The British Caribbean from Demobilization to Constitutional Decolonization’, in Judith Brown and Wm. Roger Louis eds., The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume IV: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Low, Rachael, Documentary and Educational Films of the 1930s (London: Allen and Unwin, 1979).

‘British Guiana’, Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1934, 62.

The Photographic Journal: Including the Transactions of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, Volume 75 (1935), 141.

Wright, Basil, ‘Shooting in the Tropics’, Cinema Quarterly, (Summer 1933), 227.

Wright, Basil, ‘The Sulky Fire’, Sight and Sound (Jan-March 1952). 




Technical Data

Running Time:
21 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1455 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
GPO Film Unit