This film is held by the BFI (ID: 942).


A film which contrasts the old and the new outlooks in Kenya. An elder of a coastal village has a son serving in a minesweeper who returns home on leave but soon finds himself in conflict with his father's superstition and faith in magic. In the face of opposition from his father, the young man takes his injured nephew to a British hospital. Later when father and son meet in Zanzibar, the old man agrees that the compass his son gave him has been so useful that he now wears it as a charm around his neck.



Documentary News Letter claimed in 1945 that ‘South Africa is perhaps the most backward country in the Empire from the point of view of film production, whether fictional or documentary. It is remarkable, therefore’ the journal added, ‘that one South African, Leon Schauder, now a war correspondent in Italy, has managed to make a distinguished series of films from about 1938, including Nonquassi, Karoo, We of the Veldt Drift, and Father and Son, a film now being edited by the MOI’ (DNL Vol. 5, no.7, 1945, 75).

Schauder, a South African previously based in Britain, had earlier produced films for Gaumont-British Instructional as part of the ‘Focus on the Empire’ series, with the MOI buying the world rights to Nonquassi (1938) in 1940 (Peterson, 2003, 42). Father and Son was a Crown Film Unit production, but Documentary News Letter introduced it as an ‘editing job based on material shot by Leon Schauder in the village of Tukumbu near Mombasa’ (DNL, 1946-1947, 9). Visual Education complained in 1953 that the film has been ‘re-edited to such an extent that it now serves no useful purpose whatsoever’ (Visual Education, October 1953, 11).

Father and Son was reviewed as an educational picture, available for hire from the Central Film Library. Monthly Film Bulletin believed that the film ‘should be enjoyed both by Youth Clubs and senior schoolchildren’ (MFB, October 1946, 143). Yet a review from the Leeds Educational Film Society within Visual Education argued that the ‘film is completely unsuitable for showing in schools’. The reviewer complained that ‘as a film which is intended to show how we as British people are helping the East African peoples it fails completely, rather does it illustrate that a good deal of the education of the people is left to chance’. The review concluded that ‘we do not consider this to be a true and complete illustration and regard it as a dangerous film in the hands of the novice’ (Visual Education, October 1953, 11).

The film’s narrative responds, in particular, to changes brought about by the War. John Lonsdale noted the impact of the War on Kenyan society. ‘Mombasa’s African population virtually doubled in the War, from 55,000 to 100,000’, he wrote, adding that ‘at an early stage in the war non-agricultural employment outstripped agricultural employment, never to be overtaken again’. He further argued that ‘the range of skill, responsibility and reward opened up enormously during the War’ and ‘the army provided the widest avenue of advance’. ‘About 70% of demobilised soldiers were reckoned to be literate’ which, Lonsdale argued, provided ‘a huge addition to the ranks of those with vulnerable expectations, as the colonial government was nervously aware’ (Killingray and Rathbone, 1986, 128).Piers Brendon further highlighted the problems for the 97,000 African servicemen who returned after the War: ‘Having fought for liberty beside white troops overseas, they faced repression at home because they were black’ (Brendon, 2007, 548).

Father and Son was released in America by British Information Services and also appeared in Canada. For example, theLethbridge Herald in 1948 listed the film as one of the new titles available at the Lethbridge Public Library (Lethbridge Herald, 18 May 1948, 6). 



Reviews for Father and Son emphasised that the film ‘contrasts the outlook of the old and young in Kenya’ (MFB, October 1946, 143) and provides a ‘battle between modern medicine and old magic, compass and chart as opposed to hoping for the best’ (DNL, 1946-1947, 9). Yet it is how the film represents this contrast between ‘the old and new generations in East Africa’ and indeed its narrative conclusion that are of most significance in understanding the British attitudes towards East Africa immediately after the War.

The film, in common with many instructional ethnographic pictures, features the local customs of the Africans and opens with a shot of a local, partially clothed African, shown carrying water. The man, with blackened teeth and white beard, is displayed in close-up, while the British commentary assumes the voice of the local Africans. The chief passes a schoolhouse, which the commentary describes as ‘a strange white building. Like all new things it disturbs him a little, yet he’s interested to know what curious rites are celebrated here’.The film, through the commentary – ‘strange’, ‘new things’, ‘curious’ – differentiates and subordinates the African. Later, on visiting the British doctor, the voiceover again speaks for the chief when stating ‘curiously he looked to see what witch craft the white man used’. The description of ‘the white man’ again sets up this clear sense of difference between the viewer and the African subject. 

The contrasts between the old and new are evident throughout and in many cases these divisions are indicated by costume. For example, the chief looks through the schoolhouse and sees an African in jacket and tie teaching. At a party to celebrate his son Kamal’s return there is dancing and music, but while the camera offers close-ups of the locals dancing without tops on, Kamal is depicted in his full naval uniform. This uniform serves not only to underline his detachment from the local traditional community, but also to illustrate the cause of this division between old and new – the War.

The impact of the War is emphasised within the commentary – ‘Petty Officer Kamal has seen much that is new’, and ‘He is proud of his knowledge and efficiency’. The film does show Kamal’s continued affinity to his home – ‘he is glad to return to the village’, ‘this is his home’ – but aligns the returning servicemen more closely with the British. This is most explicitly shown when Kamal chooses British medical aid over the local witch-doctor. The film does not depict any antagonism between the returning servicemen and the white settlers, but rather suggests that any dissatisfaction is a result of ‘the old fears and superstitions that still haunt his people’. In its representation of traditional Africa ‘where people live as they have for centuries’, Father and Sonprioritises the ‘modern’ Africans, and presents these ‘educated’ Africans as fully supportive of the British.

Visual Education criticised the film’s conclusion for not explicitly promoting the modern over the old, yet such criticisms overlook an important function of this narrative. The film, in emphasising the ‘gradualness of the processes of education’, implies the continued need for British involvement in Africa. Kamal serves as an example of the positive British influence over the local communities, but the failure of his father to change emphasises that this process – ultimately towards independence – is gradual and ongoing. 

Tom Rice (April 2008)


Works Cited

‘Notes of the Month’, Documentary News Letter Vol. 5, no.7, 1945, 75.

Documentary News Letter, 1946-1947, 9.

Lethbridge Herald, 18 May 1948, 6.

John Lonsdale, ‘The Depression and the Second World War in the Transformation of Kenya’, Africa and the Second World War, edited by David Killingray and Richard Rathbone (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1986), 97-142.

‘Father and Son’, Monthly Film Bulletin Vol. 13, no. 154, October 1946, 143.

Peterson, Bhekizizwe, ‘The Politics of Leisure during the Early Days of South African Cinema’, To Change Reels: Film and Film Culture in South Africa, edited by Isabel Balseiro and Ntongela Masilela (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003).

‘Father and Son’, Visual Education, October 1953, 11.




Technical Data

Running Time:
14 minutes
1266 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Ministry of Information
Production Company
Crown Film Unit





Production Organisations