"One of the greatest tasks facing many countries today is to give back to the land its lost fruitfulness" - a study of Cyprus is used to illustrate this problem.
The film explains the depletion of the forests of Cyprus (by fire, tree-felling and the uncontrolled grazing of goats) and how this leads to the erosion of topsoil; it also points out other problems, such as water shortage, malarial mosquito etc. A government programme introduces agricultural research and training, and communal irrigation to replace traditional allocation of water rights. Contour ploughing and terrace farming, re-afforestation following surveys, and the tethering of goats help retain the topsoil in the hills. The film goes on to explain the consequences, which give birth to a new set of problems: prosperity comes to certain villages, and internal migration from destitute villages begins; the same trend also leads to overcrowding of cities, exacerbated by improvements in medicine; the population increase is outpacing agricultural improvement - "Will they crop the island bare?" As a symbol of hope, the film shows schoolchildren planting trees in the hills, but can offer no final internal solution, and reminds us that the problem is not confined to Cyprus.
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The Land of Cyprus was made in 1950 by Anglo-Scottish Pictures for the British government’s Central Office of Information. Anglo-Scottish Pictures was one of a number of firms who specialised in making documentary films, often for industrial sponsors, but also for government departments (Burton, 2005, 68). The writer Arthur Calder-Marshall was employed on the project ‘in respect of research and preparation of treatment, shooting script, writing of commentary and editing supervision’ (National Archives file: INF 6/79). The commentator for the film is the actor James McKenchnie.
A document in the National Archives file relating to The Land of Cyprus reveals that UNESCO. and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations ‘encouraged the production of this film’. The FAO also made suggestions for the commentary, including the script that is featured at the film’s end. The proposal for The Land of Cyprus, which was originally titled Soil Erosion in Cyprus, is outlined in a letter from H.M.K Howson of the Colonial Office, written on 30 January 1950: ‘a film should be made, by compilation from existing material, on soil erosion and conservation in Cyprus’. Among the sources used from film libraries were footage from Cyprus is an Island (1946), Today and Tomorrow (1936), as well as an unidentifiable film about mosquitoes and malaria. Howson also outlined the film’s intended audience: ‘the film is likely to appeal not only to non-theatrical audiences in this country but also to audiences in backward countries overseas, both inside and outside the Commonwealth’. Bearing this audience in mind, he instructed that its style of editing and commentary should be ‘kept comparatively simple’. Among the countries that received this film were Holland, Greece, Brazil, Persia, Spain and Turkey. The film was also distributed in Britain as one of the Central Office of Information’s free monthly releases (National Archives file: INF 6/79).
Despite the rising tide of independence among Empire countries, during the 1950s Britain was determined to hold on to Cyprus as a colony. According to George H Kelling, Cyprus’s importance lay in providing Britain with a secure military base in the troubled middle-eastern area (Kelling, 2006, 190). The majority Greek-Cypriot population of the island was meanwhile approaching the United Nations with demands for enosis (union with Greece) (Hitchens, 1984, 36-38); in response to the Greek-Cypriots’ action the Turkish-Cypriot population was beginning to look towards Turkey as potential rulers of the island (Kelling, 2006, 191). There was nevertheless no concrete political agitation until factions among the Greek-Cypriot population commenced guerrilla warfare against the British in April 1955 (Kelling, 2006, 187)
Despite these growing problems, the post-war period was one of growth and relative prosperity for Cyprus. The death rate fell from 19.7 per thousand in 1921 to 8.4 per thousand in 1946; literacy rates grew from 37.8% in 1931 to 53.8% in 1946; and a move away from a predominantly agrarian economy drew increasing numbers to the towns (Christophorous, 2006, 305-07). In addition, a new irrigation scheme, implemented from 1946 onwards, brought clean water to virtually the whole population (Brey, 2006, 441).
The Land of Cyprus is both a stereotypical and an unusual colonial film. On the one hand, it retains the orientation of its borrowed film materials, and tells a familiar tale of the British finding solutions to colonial problems. On the other hand, The Land of Cyprus goes further than most colonial films, admitting that these solutions bring with them problems of their own. This is perhaps evidence of the influence that UNESCO. and the United Nations had upon this film. The film is pulled between the orientation of its original title, Soil Erosion in Cyprus, and the more general problems indicated by its replacement title, in which the ‘land’ of Cyprus can be taken as referring to both the island as a whole and to its geological features.
The film begins by outlining problems that Cyprus is facing. These include deforestation; free-ranging goats; and the mis-management of water supplies. These topics are the specific concerns of the films that The Land of Cyprus is compiled from. Here, they are each re-emphasised to stress the subject of soil erosion. In addition, the documentary is careful to stress that the origins of these problems lie in ancient, pre-British times. There is a repeated refrain that each issue has existed ‘for centuries’, and a mention of King Solomon suggests a different era of colonial rule. At this point in the film the islanders are cast as being incapable of solving problems themselves: ‘the people sat and waited in the shadows for what would happen next’.
This provides the cue for the first appearance of a British official on the screen: we see a young, white man from the Water Supply and Irrigation Department. The borrowed film materials convey a sense of collaboration between the British and the Cypriots. They also reveal a strict sense of hierarchy. The lone British official has the plan; the islanders are instructed and they carry out the heavy work. There is then a reversal of images that we have seen earlier in the film: wild waters are now shown to be controlled; fertile lands replace barren ones; the science of farming replaces the science of disease; a prosperous rural family replaces a poverty-stricken one; trees are shown flourishing; goats are tethered.
It is at this point that the film moves in its novel direction: outlining the problems that these solutions have brought. Although it would perhaps be expected that this orientation is due to the influence of UNESCO. and the United Nations upon the film, it should be noted that these new problems have little to do with soil erosion. It is acknowledged that, despite improvements, population growth on the island is outpacing food supply. In addition, the staggered nature of the improvements is encouraging unwelcome population movement to particular villages and towns.
At first it seems as though the solution to these problems will lie in the emigration of the ‘healthy’, ‘strong’, and ‘educated’ youngsters abroad. This film was made in the post-war period when there were labour shortages in Britain. It asks of the children, ‘will they, with their insistent hunger, crop the island bare?’ and ‘must they go abroad for a living?’ However, in contrast to its approach to the original issues, the film leaves this question open. The film ends with a sequence in which a schoolmaster instructs his class to head for the mountains, where they are shown planting young saplings. Rather than there being a colonial problem and a British solution, the Cypriot situation is now universalised. It is here that the Food and Agriculture Organisation had its most direct influence upon the film. Their script emerges on the screen, stating: ‘Too often man has not given proper care to the soil off which he lives. One of the greatest tasks facing many countries today is to give back to the land its lost fruitfulness. This story is a vital one, not only for Cyprus, but for the world’. These sentiments chime with the time in which the film was made: they speak of regeneration to a world that was still recovering from the War. And yet these remain surprising images and words to see in a governmental documentary about Cyprus: they send out a message of self-help and new beginnings, whereas the island itself remained under determined British control.
Richard Osborne (April 2010)
Brey, Hansjörg, ‘The Cypriot Economy under British Rule and the Economic Heritage of the British Period’, in Britain in Cyprus: Colonialism and Post-Colonialism 1878-2006, ed by Hubert Faustmann and Nicos Peristianis (Mannheim and Möhnesee: Bibliopolis, 2006), pp. 431-443.
Burton, Alan, Studies in Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005).
Christophorous, Christopher, ‘The Emergence of Modern Politics in Cyprus (1940-1959’, in Britain in Cyprus: Colonialism and Post-Colonialism 1878-2006, ed by Hubert Faustmann and Nicos Peristianis (Mannheim and Möhnesee: Bibliopolis, 2006), pp. 295-314.
Hitchens, Christopher, Cyprus (London: Quartet Books, 1984)
Kelling, George, H., ‘British Policy in Cyprus 1945-1955: The Pigeons Come Home to Roost’, in Britain in Cyprus: Colonialism and Post-Colonialism 1878-2006, ed by Hubert Faustmann and Nicos Peristianis (Mannheim and Möhnesee: Bibliopolis, 2006), pp. 187-97.
The Land of Cyprus, National Archives file: INF 6/79.
- Related period
- 1945-1989 (content)
- Colonial Office (Production sponsor)
Central Office of Information (Production sponsor)
Anglo-Scottish Pictures (Production company)
Film Surveys (Production company)
Calder-Marshall, Arthur (Production individual)
McKechnie, James (Production cast)
- Production date
- Place made
whole: Number Of Items/reels/tapes 1
- Catalogue number
- CCE 242