A Bunch Of Amateurs review: a love letter to film and friendship

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A local filmmaking group battles for survival in Kim Hopkins’ crowd-pleasing documentary—and the result is just plain lovely.

A Bunch Of Amateurs is one of those documentaries which sounds more like a Peter Cattaneo movie than real life. Bradford Movie Makers, founded in 1932, is in trouble. Their membership is getting older and smaller year on year. The clubhouse is falling apart, and five years late on its rent. Anonymous ruffians keep dumping white goods in front of their door, and Harry wants to remake the famous opening scene of Oklahoma! without going anywhere near a horse.

The most important aspect of making a movie, their new promotional film says, is the story. But the real draw of A Bunch Of Amateurs isn’t one story, it’s several. Just as Jaws isn’t really about a shark, the tale of one of Britain’s oldest amateur filmmaking clubs isn’t about making movies at all. It’s about a married couple of sixty years who saw Oklahoma! in their first days together. It’s about former President Colin, as he fishes a chunk of plaster out of his tea. It’s about a dozen tiny human stories touched by a love of putting new film through an old projector, and it’s one of the most affecting films of the year.

Anyone who’s tried to lead a bunch of volunteers in anything more complicated than a conga will recognise the group’s frequently testy AGMs, as members butt heads on everything from the graffiti on the clubhouse wall to what camera settings they should use for the shoot. Like most clubs of this size, most members approach the Movie Makers with something between a deep familial affection and religious fervour. Club life swings between apparently bad-tempered disagreement and group singalongs to old musicals—thanks to Kim Hopkins’ flawless editing and sense of pace, it’s a swing which happens instantly, and often.

Like the best underdog stories, it’s also wonderfully funny. It’s sometimes difficult to find the humour in films like this without coming across as mean-spirited, but the director pulls it off here with aplomb. It helps that the Movie Makers seem all too aware of their own foibles—a passing comment about jumping from project to project without finishing them makes the bounce between different title cards all the more charming. And, without giving too much away, the aforementioned Oklahoma! sequence surely has to go down as one of the cinematic highlights of the year.

It helps that the club’s members are universally lovely. Visits to their homes see them going about their daily routines, and it’s extraordinary to hear them all talk so candidly about what their membership means to them. For some, it gives them a sense of purpose and identity. For others, it’s a reason to see friends and get out of the house. Whichever it is, Hopkins’ camera sees them through thick and thin with a tenderness that never feels intrusive, but deals plenty of emotional hammer blows regardless.

The best documentaries make their subject feel like the most important thing in the world, and by the end of A Bunch Of Amateurs, the existence of the Bradford Movie Makers feels like a miracle. A tiny, rigorously unprofitable club 90 years in the making, that it made it this far is an achievement on par with the Sistine Chapel. A joyous monument to the power of community, and a love-letter to a filmmaking collective long since past its prime, Kim Hopkins’ new film is the kind of classic underdog story you suspect happens behind closed doors every day. If you ever needed a reason to find hope in humanity, here it is.

A Bunch Of Amateurs is in cinemas now.

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