Film review: A Bunch of Amateurs

A moving and funny portrait of Britain’s oldest amateur film club

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Documentary A Bunch of Amateurs focuses on the trials and tribulations of Britain’s oldest amateur film club. The Bradford Movie Makers were established in 1932, at a time when interest in film and film making was just starting to grow. This documentary, which starts in 2018, follows the small group of film-makers and movie lovers who now make up the club as they try and hang onto the group and the crumbling building it occupies.

After a lovely opening montage of archive footage revealing some of the club’s glory days, things for the present-day Movie Makers look rather bleak at the start of this film. The small membership is ageing and cashflow is a big problem – they haven’t paid rent on the clubhouse for five years. Even before everyone is forced onto Zoom because of the lockdowns, some are considering the future of the club might only exist online, while others try to come up with ways to keep it going.

We see the club members carry on with making the short films that they are passionate about, including an attempt to recreate the opening of Oklahoma! – the scene in which Gordon MacRae rides a white stallion across a sunlit meadow while singing Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’. Here, 86-year-old Harry takes the role of MacRae, despite the fact he can’t ride a horse.

The danger with any film that focuses on working-class people, as most of the members of the club are, is that film-makers either romanticise or trivialise the lives that they are following. Director and co-producer Kim Hopkins avoids both of these pitfalls, allowing the naturally funny moments to shine through (and there are plenty of them) but never setting the subjects up to be made fun of, while also letting some truly tender, and at times profoundly sad moments, naturally unfold.

And while we see the role that club plays in the day-to-day lives of its members, many of whom are struggling with problems of their own, we also see the talent and creative drive that these film-makers possess. This is a film that celebrates dreamers, creativity and community.

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