– The world’s oldest amateur film club has turned the cameras on itself in an award-winning documentary.
Bradford Movie Makers, formerly Bradford Cine Club, was formed in 1932 but grew out of meetings held in 1926. It has been in its current building, just off Little Horton Lane, since 1935.
Its members – people of all ages – throw themselves into their art and think nothing of starting remakes of Hollywood musicals like Oklahoma and Singin’ in the Rain on a rock-bottom budget. One of the club’s guiding principles is that anyone can pick up a camera and learn how to make a documentary or film.
Now in its 90th anniversary year, this remarkable club is featured in a documentary, A Bunch of Amateurs, by Yorkshire-born award-winning filmmaker Kim Hopkins.
The 95-minute film documents the trials and tribulations, the moments of frustration and joy, and the sheer joy of filmmaking that the small group of dedicated members experience as their club desperately tries to survive in the 21st century.
Clinging to their dreams and to each other, this gently comedic, deeply moving portrait of the club speaks to the escapist dreamer in all of us and the importance of personal connection in an increasingly lonely, digital age.
Kim came across the group after spotting a Facebook post from one of its members, Joe Ogden. “I looked at his profile and I saw the Movie Makers in their clubhouse and I was like, ‘You don’t see people like them in the movies, they’re ignored.’ At their AGM they voted to allow me to film them.”
She adds, “I opted for an old-school, character-driven Verité approach, with a portable cinematic camera that follows subjects fluidly, creating intimate portraiture and storylines without the need for commentary or other storytelling devices.
“Some scenes were filmed by the characters themselves. Footage from the club’s archive, dating back to the 1930s, as well as excerpts from the subjects’ own films, provide a varied texture and historical flourish.
“A whimsical, tongue-in-cheek tone and playful editing aim to take audiences on a slightly absurd journey as we continue to wonder why anyone makes a film at all.”
The story isn’t just about the love and magic of cinema, but also the ritual of gathering under one roof to watch movies together.
With multiple characters, shooting the film had its challenges from a people management perspective. “As a filmmaker, you would say, I think you should film from her or from over there,” says Kim.
The members’ daily comings and goings, their meetings and their enjoyment of their craft are punctuated by endless cups of tea in decades-old light blue cups and saucers. “It’s incredibly important to stop for tea,” stresses Kim, who is honored to be invited to the club to film. “They’re incredibly inclusive no matter who you are.”
One of the main attractions is its quirky, stone-built base itself, says Kim. “The building is one of the central characters in the film. Most amateur film clubs meet in places like village halls or conservative clubs, while this one has its own premises and a rudimentary studio.”
The building contains a cinema room where members can show their films, a small studio, a green screen and meeting room, and a kitchen where they can meet and take their tea breaks.
“Its members have been inspired by mainstream Hollywood over the centuries. You could easily start with Singin’ in the Rain or any other major musical. You just want to take a peek. Harry, one of the main characters, takes on Oklahoma and wants to be Gordon MacRae. He wants to sit on a white stallion. He is 86 and has never ridden a horse. He’s doing a good job.”
Starting before lockdown, filming took place over a three year period and was supported by the British Film Institute and Screen Yorkshire. Kim Hopkins co-directs and produces with co-founder Margareta Szabo under their Labor of Love Films banner.
Keighley-born screenwriter Simon Beaufoy is producing with Lisa Marie Russo, Caroline Cooper Charles, Megan Gelstein and Capella Fahoome.
Joe Ogden has been a club member for 18 years. He believes the film captured the essence of the club. “It is a beautiful film and very moving. Kim and Margareta did a really good job. We just did what we do and they filmed it. It’s a piece of life in Bradford and a story that needs to be told.”
Joe, who makes films ranging from travelogues to sci-fi to comedy, is looking forward to seeing it in Bradford.
“There was a standing ovation after the screening in Sheffield. I’ve never seen a standing ovation for a documentary. It was a full house, some people were standing.”
When he saw himself on the big screen, his first thought was, “I should have shaved that day.”
He adds, “It was very strange to see what we’re doing in the film.”
In 2015 he introduced his partner Jeanette Wilson. “Joe is the filmmaker and I’m going to support him,” she says. “Being filmed for the documentary was pretty scary at first. I don’t like being in front of the camera but I got used to it and really enjoyed watching the film – it’s just who we are, it’s exactly what it says on the tin.”
The film, which was screened at the Dok Leipzig Film Festival in Germany last month, received a lot of praise at this year’s Sheffield DocFest, including the Audience Award.
*Following special screenings on November 2nd at the British Film Institute in London, A Bunch of Amateurs will have a homecoming premiere on Thursday November 10th at 7.30pm at the National Science and Media Museum’s Pictureville Cinema in Bradford. Kim Hopkins will present the film and members of the Bradford Movie Makers will participate in a Q&A session afterwards. It will be shown in cinemas across the country from November 11th.