Kay Mander: What is the definition of a pioneer?

Kay Mander

 'One who ventures into unknown or unclaimed territory to settle, one who opens up new areas of thought, research or development, one who changes the current 'way of things' and paves new opportunities and benefits for future generations'

The term pioneer could have been applied to Kay Mander some sixty plus years ago.

Women in the film industry are still woefully underrepresented to this day. To have gone against the grain in the 1940s and 50s and made your mark as a female filmmaker must have been a battle against insurmountable odds.

But nothing worth fighting for is ever easy in life.

The term 'pioneer' could have been invented for Kay Mander. The word belongs after her name in parenthesis as do 'rebel', 'visionary' and 'innovator'. Mander was a prolific director of documentary films. By 1943 she had made films about the fire service and civil defence procedures for the wartime homefront propaganda campaign. Despite the restrictive subject matter Mander managed to layer such films with her own sense of directional perspective and humanity.

But Kay Mander's true vocation was realised by her work creating the first docu-drama, a channel of filmmaking that flourished and exists to this day. Think of the 2012 multi-award winning 'The Imposter'.

Mander was the first documentary filmmaker to begin using professional actors and local people in her work. She successfully combined documentary and drama to promote the socialist ideal of a nationalised health service. She also made a recruitment film for the Ministry of Works, New Builders (1944) as well as directing several items for Rotha's wartime cinemagazine Worker and Warfront. Mander then moved to the Realist Film Unit where she co-directed one film, the documentary-drama Penicillin (1944).

It is testament to the struggles that existed then and now that after all Mander achieved she then fought to gain a foothold on a career after the end of the war when a greater pick of male directors were back on the scene.

In recent years film experts and historians have lent great credence to Kay Mander's career and the influence her work had on a future generation of filmmakers with Russell Crowe counted as one of her noted admirers.

More recently Kay Mander lived in anonymity in a council house and subsequently a nursing home in Castle Douglas. And few knew that the innocuous pensioner was one of Britain's pioneering women film directors and the one-time lover of Hollywood superstar Kirk Douglas.

Kay Mander died last month in Scotland aged 98 and, along with Antonia Bird another remarkable female director we lost last year, will be remembered and missed from this continually male orientated industry – not as 'female filmmakers' but as filmmakers in their own right.

Kay Mander (pioneer, rebel, visionary, innovator, filmmaker) 1915 - 2013
Antonia Bird (artist, visionary, filmmaker) 1951 - 2013

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