Free Cinema was founded in 1956 when filmmakers Lindsay Anderson (1923–1994), Karel Reisz (1926–2002), Tony Richardson (1928–1991) and Lorenza Mazetti (born 1928) decided to show a programme of their films with this title at the National Film Theatre. In all, six programmes were shown between 1956 and 1959, three of which concentrated on British documentary films. It was ‘free’ cinema because the films were produced independently, outside the established structure of the film industry, and were generally low-budget and shot on 16 mm film.

The group, particularly Anderson, were admirers of Humphrey Jennings’s films and, following his example, they adopted a personalised approach to film, poetic style and used experimental soundtracks. Like Jennings, they were also focused on Britain as their principle subject, though they were particularly concerned with presenting an unscripted and unmediated view of working class lives.

The two documentary films in Making History were both sponsored by the Ford Motor Company as part of their non-advertising documentary series Look at Britain. Anderson’s Every Day Except Christmas 1957 focuses on the activity of Covent Garden market while Reisz’s We are the Lambeth Boys 1959 concentrates on a group of teenagers who congregate at a South London youth club. Both were filmed by cinematographer Walter Lassally, a key collaborator in Free Cinema and later feature film projects by the Free Cinema directors. Free Cinema can be considered one of the principle legacies of the documentary tradition established by Grierson and others during the 1930s and 1940s.