Review: A Bunch of Amateurs (2022)

Courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest

Once upon a time, cinema clubs were immensely popular all over the world, and Northern England was no exception. Nowadays, they are a dying breed. Bradford Cine Club, founded in 1932, is one of the last establishments of that kind still standing. The club and its members, mostly elderly men with their quirks, strong motivations and creative differences stand in the centre of Kim Hopkins’ documentary A Bunch of Amateurs that world-premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest, where it also grabbed the Audience Award.

Right after the quote of Susan Sontag that highlights the necessity of cinephilia for the process of filmmaking, the title card providing the basic information about the cinema club culture in the region, and an elegant montage sequence made of excerpts from the club’s selected previous works as the background for the opening credits, we get to the centre of the story, straight to the crumbling clubhouse where we meet our subjects. The state of things does not leave much room for optimism: the clubhouse is in need of repairs, the members are getting older, and the finances seem insecure. But the club is still the place where enthusiastic amateur filmmakers gather to watch and make movies.

Harry wants to do a shot-for-shot remake of the opening sequence of the musical classic Oklahoma, albeit he is not much of a cowboy, and Yorkshire definitely not Oklahoma, his motivation is strong enough to use the green screen and a stunt double. Colin is the clubhouse projectionist and handyman for whom the club provides distraction from the daily life. Phil and Joe are among the youngest members of the club and they follow the technological advancements from the positions of the cinematographer and editor, respectively. Finally, Marie is the club’s newest member and she has a couple of ideas how to revitalize the club, and to make the finances more secure. The first of them is to change of the name to Bradford Movie Makers in order to attract new audiences and membership.

But the wind is changing constantly and everywhere, in the outer world, in the amateur filmmaking business and in the club itself, as Hopkins points out with the metaphorical shot of a weather vane located on the top of the house’s roof. Finally, the pandemic strikes, bringing all those well-known rules and restrictions that affect the club activities significantly, and presenting maybe the hardest challenge in the struggle for survival.

Hopkins, whose credits include a significant ammount of work for television, does not interfere with the club’s internal dynamics, but she is more than just observer. She actually provides a sympathetic ear for the people who want to share their thoughts, cares and worries, making A Bunch of Amateurs a heart-warming group portrait of a very special bunch laced with the typically dry, but actually well-meaning English humour.

Aesthetically and technically, A Bunch of Amateurs is very solid, powered by Hopkins’ own crisp cinematography and Leah Marino’s tight editing that cuts down the material filmed over the course of several years into the pleasant 95 minutes of runtime. Carefully picked music by Terence Dunn follows the tone of the film closely, from the beginnings in which he mimics the cinema clubs’ approach to the musical score, to the more original and darker notes towards the end. The only thing that disrupts the stylistic continuity are the “isolation diaries” towards the end, but it is also forced by the circumstances that needed to be addressed. Nevertheless, A Bunch of Amateurs is a deftly made documentary with noble intentions that is worth seeing.

Country: UK
Language: English
Runtime: 95’ Directed by: Kim Hopkins
Written by: Kim Hopkins
Cinematography by: Kim Hopkins
Editing by: Leah Marino
Music by: Terrnce Dunn
Sound by: Margareta Szabo
Produced by: Kim Hopkins, Margareta Szabo
Production company: Labor of Love Films
Supported by: BFI Doc Society, Screen Yorkshire, Catapult Film Fund
Sales by: Metfilm