Kim Hopkins' compelling, sensitive doc about the Bradford Movie Makers triumphs as a celebration of both community and cinephilia
On a purely superficial level, it’s hard not to be charmed and won over by A Bunch of Amateurs: this is the story of the Bradford Movie Makers, an amateur filmmakers club established in 1930 and still going today. With a dwindling and ageing membership, the club desperately need new finances to repair their clubhouse and keep going – and what follows is the sort of loveable underdog story that’s been part and parcel of British filmmaking as long as the Bradford Movie Makers themselves.
This is a grumpy, irascible, and yet likeable group, all of whom are bound by a love of films and filmmaking – the amateur clips we see of their work and that of the club throughout the years is hardly high-tech, but endearingly low-budget and fun. Their filming adventures often devolve into impatient bickering; one member wants to remake the opening sequence of Oklahoma, miming along to “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin',” but hasn’t got the patience to wait under the green screen lights for the cameramen to set up properly (he’s too old and inexperienced to ride a live horse, so they shoot body doubles earlier). Yet the love and solidarity they show when they’re struggling, with elderly members in ailing health and many of the group having full-time caring duties for family members, is never less than moving.
What elevates Kim Hopkins’ film beyond the loveable underdog outline is the smart and sensitive editing that pays close attention to the inner lives of its subjects – something which is thrown into sharp relief in the film’s final third when the pandemic interrupts filming (shooting took place across the last few years of the 2010s, going into 2020). Hopkins frequently leaves the core narrative behind to allow us into the group’s daily lives, balancing the importance of the Movie Makers against its members' wider responsibilities or place in the community.
Beneath this lies the implication that such amateur clubs are vital to the social, cultural, and psychological health of communities. The club’s financial precarity and its location in a dilapidated part of town (the club’s outdoor area is frequently used by drug addicts and fly-tippers) are set against the film’s recognition that the impact of grassroots culture goes beyond the purely monetary – for its predominantly working-class members, it is one of a few non-commercialised spaces where they can actually be together. The slow leeching of these places has been enacted over the decades by design and policy. Ironically, the complete disconnection of the pandemic saw many of these policies temporarily dismantled (such a fact proves crucial to the film’s final third). But the question remains: if such places disappear, what are the remaining non-profit community spaces?
As cinema settles firmly into its digital age, the tactility of physical media is frequently foregrounded here. A Bunch of Amateurs opens with a club member showing off his projector, an image we return to elsewhere in the film. But every visit into one of the cast’s homes is prefaced with images of objects: photos, trinkets, collections, displays. Part of this, too, is the tactility of meeting together, of building a community whose very existence gives itself something of an emotional worth – something greater than itself. That thought sits at the core of the film – and is key to what makes it such a compelling watch.
A Bunch of Amateurs is released in UK cinemas on 11 November.Where to watch