The Oscars come to the National Library

Still image from Seawards the Great Ships
Still image from Seawards the Great Ships

With the 94th Academy Awards upon us at the end of March, what better time to explore the Library’s film collections and discover a few unexpected connections to the Oscars… 

A trio of Scottish ‘Best Live Action Shorts’ 

Seawards the Great Ships (1960) was the first Scottish film to win an Oscar, for best Live Action Short Film of 1961. It also won prizes at 20 international festivals. It took two years to make, and involved filming every launch from the 23 yards on the Clyde (and – reputedly – involved every cameraman in Glasgow!)  The director, Hilary Harris, spent a year soaking up the hustle and bustle of the shipyards, painstakingly planning how to put such a technically challenging film together. The breathtaking opening sequence is but one example of how well this paid off.  

Find out more about the film in this specially commissioned piece A Focus on Seawards The Great Ships (2011)

The Library had a special 60th anniversary screening of the film in the auditorium at Kelvin Hall on Wednesday 23rd March from 6-7pm.

Still image from Franz Kafka It's A Wonderful Life
Still image from Franz Kafka It’s A Wonderful Life

On a more surreal note, Franz Kafka, It’s a Wonderful Life (1993) also won Best Live Action Short Film in 1995. It was written and directed by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi and stars a fresh-faced Richard E. Grant. The work is part of the Tartan Shorts film scheme, preserved by the Library. It is free to view on National Library of Scotland premises via the online catalogue.

Currently missing from the national collection is The Dollar Bottom (1981), a rarely seen title which also won best live action short. It concerns the story of a public schoolboy who starts an insurance scheme against caning. It was directed by Roger Christian (who also won an Oscar for production design on the original Star Wars movie!)  It stars well known Scottish actors Robert Urquhart and Rikki Fulton, among others. 

Other Oscar connections in the collection 

  • Neighbours (1952) is a film by Scottish Canadian animator, director and producer Norman McLaren. It can be viewed and explored online at the National Film Board of Canada. The Library’s moving image collection holds several of McLaren’s works on film, including this intriguing McLaren Home Movie
  • The Kidnappers (1953)  Jon Whitely won an honorary “juvenile” Academy Award for his role in this drama, filmed in the Perthshire hills around Glen Affric and Glen Moriston. 

End credit 

Many films that were nominated or won an Oscar are preserved in colleague archives across the globe (for example the British Film Institute or the Academy Film Archive) and some can be difficult to find. Here are a few interesting examples of Scottish films that are not preserved by the Library: 

Winners: Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Chariots of Fire (1981) and Braveheart (1995) 

Nominated: Mary Queen of Scots (1979); Trainspotting (1996) 

Fun fact 

The National Library of Scotland at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow has a copy of an Oscars statuette on display. This is a replica of the one awarded to Robert Riddell-Black, the producer of Seawards The Great Ships. Do come and visit to find out more about Scotland’s rich film and sound heritage and to explore the National Library’s digital collections for free. Find out more here

Copy of Oscar statuette awarded to 'Seawards The Great Ships in the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall
Copy of Oscar statuette awarded to ‘Seawards The Great Ships in the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall