This film is held by the BFI (ID: 46748).


An account of an expedition to the Sudan undertaken by Major Court Treatt, his wife Stella and his brother-in law Errol Hinds.

The film opens with women dancing in a London club. A man walks across the floor and approaches Major Court Treatt, who explains that he got back from Africa 'only last week'. The men sit and talk - Court Treatt explains that he filmed the wild animals - before Stella Court Treatt and her brother finish dancing and sit down at the table. The guest asks them about their trip, and Major Court Treatt begins to tell their story, which is then told through the filmed footage from the expedition. The trio are shown unloading their kit and lorry at Port Sudan, before they travel by train to El Obeid. Here they went 'shopping', with the film showing various scenes from the local market including a silversmith, women plaiting baskets, 'an Arab beauty parlour', a cheesemaker, a blacksmith, the process of making millet, and a shoemaker. They buy cattle for the expedition and then travel to the river Bahr el-Arab. They make repairs to the car along the way, and then reach the river, where they find Arab girls catching small fish. They meet the local Dinkas and travel by boat to their camp. The film highlights the local birdlife and then shows a local horse market, which culminated in a series of races and a parade of 6000 mounted spearsmen of the Rizeigate tribe.

Back at the London club the friend asks 'What about the natives? Did you get some amusing shots of them?'. Errol Hinds answers over footage of the many women auditioning for a part in their film (Stampede) as the film cuts between footage of dancing in the London club and of the locals in Africa. Stella then introduces the many pets she kept. These include two monkeys, a baby giraffe, baby ostriches, ducks, and young leopards. The locals are invited to listen to a gramophone, before the expedition moves on along the river. Here they look for elephants to film and build a hide near a waterhole to film the animals. They build a further hide in the forest clearing, where they film a leopard and a lion. Court Treatt explains that at this point they ran out of film.



In March 1928 The Times reported that ‘Major and Mrs Court Treatt and Mr E.S. Hinds who made the first Cape to Cairo journey by motor car, have left London for Central East Africa, where they are to make two pictures for British Instructional Films’. The paper explained that ‘the first picture will deal with wild animal and native life and customs, and the second will be a “story” picture based on an original scenario by Mrs Court Treatt’ (The Times, 21 March 1928, 14). The first film released from the expedition was the silent “story” picture – Stampede – which opened in London in February 1930. A sound version of Stampede, entitled Africa in Flames, was also produced, as well as a series of books on the expedition. These included Stella Court Treatt’s Stampede, a novelisation of the film, and Sudan Sands: Filming the Baggara Arab, which recalled her experiences on the expedition. Major Court Treatt also published an account of his trip in 1930 entitled Out of the Beaten Track. The second film released – Stark Nature – was a sound production, with additional sequences filmed at Welwyn Garden City in March 1930.

Bioscope announced that sound production on Stark Nature – ‘a cinema record of Major Court Treatt’s recent expedition in the Western Sudan, which might be described as shooting big game with a camera’ – would begin on 7 March 1930. Bioscope outlined the intended features of the film, and explained that ‘it starts in a night club, complete with cabaret show and dancing troupe in the best Hollywood manner!’. The article emphasised the dance sequences in the nightclub: ‘couples are seen dancing the modern six eight and blues. In a flash you are back again watching a dance of semi-nude Arab women’ and noted that the featured Foster Girls were currently playing at the Palladium after a world tour (Bioscope, 5 March 1930, 22-23). Publicity material for the film explained that the Foster Girls’ ‘opening “native” dance was introduced to them by Mrs Court Treatt, and is based on the identical thing as performed by the native girls in an African village’ (Stark Nature Pressbook).

Bioscope further explained that ‘the film will be directed and the whole of the scenery and settings designed by Arthur Woods, who recently directed a new Secrets of Nature series’ (Bioscope, 5 March 1930, 23). The rights to Pro Patria films had been sold to exhibitors in South Africa and India, and Stark Nature was seemingly aiming for international markets as The Times explained that ‘Stark Nature, unlike Stampede, the Court Treatt film now showing at the Polytechnic, will include dialogue in English, French, German and probably Spanish’ (The Times, 19 March 1930, 12). The completed film was released in England in the summer of 1930 and played at the Plaza in London for a week from 18 to 24 July. Posters for Stark Nature advertised the film as a ‘story of adventure’ and as an ‘all talking production’.

Bioscope, in its review of Stark Nature, noted the ‘novel setting for the introduction’ of the film and explained that ‘the relating of their adventures is contrasted with their modern surroundings, and the type of entertainment of savage origin which accompanies their chat is effective and amusing comment’ (Bioscope, 11 June 1930, 29). The Times, while praising the footage of wild animals, was far more critical of the ‘senseless insistence on the cabaret background’ and condemned the ‘chronic disability’ to leave nature films alone. ‘A picture of a herd of elephants on the move is a picture complete and absolute’ the review stated, ‘and, as such, it does not need a running commentary of elaborate facetiousness, nor is the comparison between modern and primitive dancing of such startling originality that we must be dragged back from a native dance to have the moral underlined by a “shot” of a cabaret chorus at work’ (The Times, 21 July 1930, 10). 



The Times’ criticisms of Stark Nature position the film as part of broader ‘disastrous’ developments in the ‘presentation of Nature films’ (The Times, 21 July 1930, 10). These developments are also apparent in Stampede, which positioned expedition footage within a staged narrative, after Stella Court Treatt determined that a ‘story’ was ‘essential as a peg upon which to hang an “animal” picture’ (Court Treatt, 1930, 3). Stark Nature, with its cabaret dancers, explicitly illustrates this growing desire to sensationalise and glamorise wildlife footage, to incorporate other genres and styles within the nature film, and to interconnect fiction and travelogue within these colonial narratives.

The Times was also critical of the ‘facetious’ commentary and of the comparison between ‘modern and primitive’ within the dance sequences. Yet this structure – constructing a clear division between the ‘modern’ Europeans and the ‘primitive’ Africans – runs throughout the film. On ordering a drink of whiskey and soda in the club, Court Treatt’s friend remarks ‘glad to see you’ve retained some of your civilised habits’, while on setting off for Sudan, Court Treatt talks of being ‘cut off from civilisation for a year’. The Dinkas are described in distinctly British terms as ‘utterly primitive of course, but courteous, pleasant and in fact a jolly crowd’, while their ‘primitive methods’ of making fire are highlighted.

The British are aligned with modern technology, which the British do not entrust to the locals – ‘the natives could easily have made short work of some important piece of machinery’. A further scene depicts the locals listening to the gramophone, laughing and rolling around the floor in apparent disbelief. Publicity reports reiterated this mutual incomprehension between the ‘primitive’ locals and ‘modern’ Europeans. For example, one report explained that on hearing the music from Errol Hinds’ portable radio set, ‘the natives thought it another form of “White man’s magic” and left it at that’ (Stark Nature Press book). The publicity discourses, written accounts of the trip and the film commentary all ascribe western perceptions of local life to the local people. For example the ‘awe-struck Dinkas’ see the British boats and are said to be unsure whether it is a ‘miracle or a conjuring trick’. Furthermore, when the British eat breakfast, the commentary explains that ‘the Dinkas stood at a respectful distance although they must have been amazed at seeing us eat with such strange implements as knives and forks and plates and cups’.

Both the editing – most explicitly in the dance sequences – and the commentary serve to compare life in England to that in the Sudan. This is a common feature of British Instructional colonial films during the 1920s, as the films of The Empire Series – such as An African Derby (1927) – demonstrate, often emphasising for comic effect the differences between British and African life in order to stress British primacy. Stark Nature depicts a ‘shopping expedition’, and shows local Africans sitting outside having their hair braided at what the commentary describes as an ‘Arab beauty parlour’. The travellers visit a ‘desert petrol station’ – which consists of a hollow tree – while a local horse race is compared to the ‘gaiety of Ascot or the cheerfulness of Sandown Park’. The disparity between the spoken word and the image serves to generate a comedy that privileges the European viewer. During a scene of a chief dispensing justice – ‘this crude but no means unjust court’ – the commentary jokingly notes the lack of barristers.

Stark Nature also highlights the changing apparatus of the hunter. In the film’s opening scene, Court Treatt explains ‘I shot hundreds of elephants and thousand of natives’. He then explains ‘we shot them with a camera of course’. Publicity materials emphasised that Court Treatt ‘hunted’ with a camera, and cartoons and comic parodies of African exploration – for example Africa Shrieks (1931) – regularly derived comedy by presenting the modern hunter with a film camera and by playing on this familiar notion of the camera as a gun.

Finally, even though the expedition features a female explorer, the film appears to present clearly delineated gender roles. Major Court Treatt does remark that his wife’s ‘knowledge and usefulness on these occasions equals that of a man’, but while she is fully involved within the expedition, the film focuses predominantly on her maternal role, looking after the pets. She is presented within a domestic context feeding and looking after the baby animals. She assigns names to the animals and when discussing Eggbert, her ant-bear, she says ‘Oh he was a darling. He was such a darling…it almost broke my heart leaving some of them behind’.

Tom Rice (July 2008)


Works Cited

‘New Court Treatt Film at Wembley’, Bioscope, 5 March 1930, 22-23.

‘Stark Nature’, Bioscope, 11 June 1930, 29.

Court Treatt, Stella, Sudan Sand: Filming the Baggara Arabs (London: Harrap, 1930).

Stark Nature Pressbook’ held at the BFI.

‘The Film World’, The Times, 21 March 1928, 14.

‘The Film World: British Quota Pictures’, The Times, 19 March 1930, 12.

‘Major and Mrs Treatt’s Nature Film’, The Times, 21 July 1930, 10. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
66.3 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
6256 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
WOODS, Arthur
Associate Editor
cast member
cast member
cast member
Foster Dancing Girls
cast member
HINDS, Errol
HINDS, Errol
Production Company
British Instructional Films
Production Company
Pro Patria Films
Welwyn Studios





Production Organisations