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In her 1995 New York Times essay ‘The Decay of Cinema’, Susan Sontag wrote, “If cinephilia is dead, then movies are dead too.” Director Kim Hopkins opens A Bunch of Amateurs with this quote, and her film is an affectionate portrait of the Bradford Movie Makers, a dozen lifelong cinephiles resolutely keeping the flame alive. Ominous signs are evident – from the creaking bodies of the club’s more senior members to the clubhouse that is crumbling around them – but when it comes to the serious business of realising their DIY short films, the BMMs’ infectious enthusiasm remains undimmed.
Hopkins has some fun with the filmmakers’ attempts to emulate Hollywood spectacle on a shoestring budget, which leads to thorny questions such as how to recreate the opening scene of Oklahoma! (1955) when your lead actor is an 80-year-old Yorkshireman who’s never been on a horse. But beyond the comedy value inherent in this concept, there’s a note of poignancy when Harry, the octogenarian in question, reveals that his homage is for his now-ailing wife Mary, as Oklahoma! was the first film they saw together.
Though A Bunch of Amateurs initially appears to fit neatly into the tradition of amusing studies of English eccentrics, it deepens into a touching reflection on the importance of cinema and community for an ageing population whose lives are too often isolated and lacking in purpose. The weekly meetings of the Bradford Movie Makers offer the club’s members a human connection and respite from caring for the loved ones who are currently bedridden or struggling with dementia; one member tells us that being part of the group has helped him cope with bouts of depression. Sontag writes about cinephilia keeping cinema alive, but it’s clear from A Bunch of Amateurs that cinema can also serve to sustain the cinephiles themselves.
The film can feel a little directionless as it shifts its focus from one member to another, but Hopkins creates a narrative thread by focusing on the looming threat of extinction that the group faces. Similar collectives in Leeds and Wakefield have already folded, and the region’s once-thriving amateur film community is dwindling into an ever-smaller niche. With attempts to enlist younger members falling flat, there’s a very real possibility that this club will die with its ageing membership. The Bradford Movie Makers celebrate their 90th anniversary this year, but how many years do they have left? We only know one thing for sure: they will make the most of every moment.
► A Bunch of Amateurs is in UK cinemas from 11 November.