Esther Johnson



Output: Digital or Visual Media

The feature-length film ‘ASUNDER’ is the result of an enquiry into the alternative social histories of 10 people of Tyneside and Wearside during WW1. The research considers how a multi-textured approach using archive and contemporary film, voiceover, and an original score, can create a novel and immersive reading of history.

The research questions memory and testimony, with historical records re-appropriated and mixed with contemporary footage to find new ways of understanding the war. The script, narrated by Kate Adie and Alun Armstrong, juxtaposes archival oral testimonies and memoirs with WW1 diaries, letters, and newspaper articles.

To achieve this output, extensive research was undertaken in 25 archives to uncover rarely seen period footage and previously untold Home and Western front stories. ‘ASUNDER’ includes excerpts from 96 films, alongside new footage showing locations in NE England. Johnson undertook an iterative process whereby her archive research was shared with the film composers, Field Music and Warm Digits, and musician/writer Bob Stanley, to inform and develop a live cinema performance and script.

This research was supported by Sunderland Culture and 14-18NOW, a central commission of the UK WW1 commemorative arts programme. The premiere marked the Battle of the Somme centenary with live performances at Sunderland Empire with the score composers, Royal Northern Sinfonia, and The Cornshed Sisters. This was reviewed in broadcast media, newspapers and online. The research was cited as a key work in Sunderland’s 2021 UK City of Culture bid, and inspired a series of cultural activities in and around Sunderland.

Additional dissemination includes Barbican, London; 21 cinemas screenings; 23 community venues (including locations featured in the film); 10 conference/symposia; and 8 colleges. Awards include winner of Journal Culture Best Event Sunderland; Special Commendation for Learning on Screen Archive Award; and Finalist for Focal Award for Best Footage in a Factual Production.

Research Output

ASUNDER trailer (2016)

Due to restrictions, this project does not have a full submission available to view. However, please feel free to check out other projects from this author.

Research Method

Research was undertaken in local and national archives with a focus on diaries written during the war, letters, drawings, memoirs and oral history recordings from survivors reflecting back on the war. The film narrative was woven from this material, in addition to articles published in 1914–18 issues of the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

Due to copyright, privacy, or agreements, the full output for this project submission is not available. Please contact us to request a copy to be sent to you.

Other Projects By

Esther Johnson