FOR 90 years, a group of cinephiles have found themselves in Bradford to make their own films. Some productions are on an ambitious scale – they even made a color film in the 1940s, when such a thing was still in its infancy.
Now the Bradford Movie Makers – who meet every Monday night at a building in Little Horton – have become a global sensation. In recent days, members of the world’s oldest amateur film club have appeared on national television and radio, including BBC Breakfast and Radio 4’s Today programme. And Baz Lurhmann, Australian director of hit films such as Moulin Rouge and Elvis, would be a fan and eager to meet the small group.
All thanks to the extraordinary success of A Bunch of Amateurs, a charming documentary about the Bradford Movie Makers, now on national release in cinemas, with five-star reviews. The joyful and touching 90-minute film, which follows the members as they fight to keep their club running and remake a major musical, won the People’s Choice Award and a standing ovation at this year’s Sheffield Doc Fest. It had previews at the BFI Southbank in London and a Bradford premiere at the National Science and Media Museum.
The film – directed and produced by Kim Hopkins under his Labor of Love Films banner, alongside co-founder Margareta Szabo and the BFI Doc Society Fund, with Oscar-winning Glusburn-born Simon Beaufoy serving as executive producer – is a loving tribute to a group of people who “hold on to their dreams, fueled by endless cups of tea”.
The club, whose members are aging, is struggling to pay the rent on its building. Two years ago it almost closed. But what emerges from the film is the camaraderie, as well as the feuds, between people who share a passion for movies and who seek solace in the face of life’s challenges at their weekly get-togethers. It’s a gently comic and deeply moving portrait of shared creative enthusiasm and friendship, which speaks to the escape dreamer in all of us and the enduring power of spending time together in an increasingly digital age. lonely.
Joe Ogden is touring the UK this week, along with other club members, attending screenings of the new film and Q&A sessions. “It’s like a wonderful dream,” he says. “I’m an amateur filmmaker – with a film credit in this premier documentary. It’s amazing.
“People connect within the industry. If Baz Lurhmann wants to pop into the club on a Monday night, he can have a cup of tea and a cookie. The subs are free the first few times…”
Joe adds, “It’s important to keep your feet on the ground. I still volunteer with Disability Support on days when we are not at A Bunch of Amateurs Q&As in cinemas across the UK. We are delighted with the success of the film – thank you to the people of Bradford, the press, cinemas and everyone involved.
Bradford City of Film director David Wilson calls it “A film absolutely brimming with humanity”.
He adds: “The ups and downs of ordinary people who dare to dream and remain committed to their craft despite all the challenges of life… This film will make you laugh as much as you cry. It’s true to the people depicted in it and a master class in documentary filmmaking.
Kim Hopkins discovered the club on social media. She says her film “is set in an area where strangers are treated with suspicious eyebrows, and those wielding a camera are downright unresponsive.”
“I was raised here, so I understand local codes, working class sensibilities and difficult history,” she adds. “The ghosts of a prosperous industrial past are everywhere. These working class people are the collateral damage of an ideologically divided society that at best ignores them, at worst blames them.
“Comedy here has a very serious function – to ward off the devil, be it the devil’s sadness, loneliness or the Grim Reaper himself. Laughter is a kind of survival mechanism to help you get through the bad times They are good and honest people, what we call the “salt of the earth.” These are the feelings that I wanted in the heart of A band of amateurs.
Bradford Movie Makers, formerly Bradford Cine Club, was formed in 1932, but meetings took place from 1926. Its base in Little Horton, where the club has been based since 1935, has a small cinema. The club’s oldest member is Colin Egglestone, 89, who joined 50 years ago.
One of the big tenets of Bradford Movie Makers is that anyone can pick up a camera and learn how to make a movie. Some members specialize in skills such as visual effects, directing, or cinematography. Others write, produce and act. Members make films for competitions and festivals. Making a film can take several weeks, or even well over a year, depending on the special effects. “Old motion pictures had a pretty small frame, so you had to be a good cameraman to get the detail, and it was very expensive – a hobby for the wealthy,” says Joe. “With digital you can have a full studio in the palm of your hand for pocket money prizes, and with social media it can reach more people in a day than old movies could in a day. life.”
While technology and equipment have changed drastically over the years, the essence of filmmaking remains the same. “We all tell a story,” says Joe.
l A Bunch of Amateurs is in theaters now. There are screenings at the National Museum of Science and Media this month. Visit scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk