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Housing Problems (1935)

In this historic documentary, the slum-dwellers of 1930s Stepney talk about the terrible conditions that they face: sagging roofs, shored up walls, no running water and unsanitary toilet facilities. Housing Problems moves from the problem to its suggested solution: to build new housing estates, and tear down the slums. We are shown the plans for the new ‘model’ estate, and the inhabitants comment on the contrast in living conditions. The film finishes by revisiting the shots of the slums, and contrasting them with the cleanliness of the new estates.

Classroom Activities

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  • How many different types of people are there?

  • How many different types of setting or locations are there?

  • What is the class’s reaction at the end of the film?

  • What atmosphere does the film create? How does it make you feel? What images do you see that make you feel like this?

  • How do you think the people in the film feel? Why is this?

  • Does the film seem to have a particular stance or point of view on the subject matter?

  • Look at the size and condition of the various houses in the film. What are the differences between wealthy and poor areas?


  • Play the film first time with vision only. What do the students think is going on? Where and when is the film set?

  • Using freeze frame and the Spot the Shots worksheet, identify the different shot types and angles used. What view does the camera show? Whose perspective is it? How does the camera change for each event?

  • This film is in black and white. Discuss what colours we might see if this film were filmed today.

  • After watching the film, choose two images that represent or sum up the meaning of the film.

  • There are more early documentaries about housing to view at Encourage students to view these. Compare and discuss.


  • Before screening the film, challenge students to come up with a dictionary definition for non-fiction film and write it down. Take feedback as a class and discuss ideas..

  • Ask students to write down all the possible audiences of documentary and non-fiction films.

  • Discuss the idea of film changing reality – a concern for documentary filmmaking. Do the class think there are any moments where the presence of a camera has changed the normal behaviour of people featured in the film? Get the class to cite examples from the film.

  • As homework, ask your class to check television channels for examples of documentary and non-fiction. Make a detailed list. Discuss similarities and differences between current programmes and Housing Problems.

  • What would a film like Housing Problems, shot today, look like? Find images from magazines, brochures and the internet.

  • Research the filmmakers Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton. As documentary filmmakers, what were their particular interests? How are these reflected in the film Housing Problems?


  • Write a dialogue script for some new characters in the film. Get the class to take on roles and perform their script. Record it and add to a downloaded version of the film in iMovie or Windows MovieMaker to create a sequel/revision to this film.

  • Write a letter to a penpal telling them about your homelife.

  • History: use the library and internet to research the history of housing in your area. Compile an illustrated report.

  • English: compare the works of Charles Dickens with this film. Are there any similarities between Dickins’ stories and the evidence presented in this film?

  • Citizenship/social studies/geography/history: using the library and internet, research population numbers in 1935 and in the current day.

  • English: Write down all the words used by the people in this film that describe how they feel. Write a poem incorporating these words to reflect the feelings of the people in the film. Then write another poem creating a positive and upbeat feel to encourage them.

  • Geography / Art and Design: using the library and internet, research housing in your area, then create a map / mural / painting of what the area looked like in the 1930s and what it looks like today.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-002-000-085-C
Resource Rights Holder BFI
Project Ref RLS-09
Year of Production 1935
Genre Documentary
Curriculum Areas subjects
Who Arthur Elton (Filmmaker), Edgar Antsley (Filmmaker)
Country of Origin UK
Medium / Content Live Action, Non-Fiction, Black & White, Sound
Themes Language, History Poverty, Society, Culture, Dignity, Health, Architecture
Clip Length 13:00