Review: A Bunch of Amateurs

Written and directed by Kim Hopkins, formed in 1932, Bradford Movie Makers is one of the oldest amateur filmmaking clubs in the world. But continuing in this day and age is no easy task. To ensure its survival, the group has decided to embark on its most ambitious project: to remake a beloved musical. Desperately clinging to their dreams – and each other – and fuelled by endless cups of tea, this group speaks to the escapist dreamer in us all.

One of the immediate things that A Bunch of Amateurs highlights is how refreshing it is to watch British film which doesn’t take place in the south. It’s not often that a truly Northern story gets the limelight, let alone one following grounded, everyday people, so it’s a pleasure to see here. The fact that they’re just an unfiltered small collective of film lovers is exactly why this film is so charming. Their dynamic brings a typically British, sarcastic and awkward sense of humour, which in turn has a lot of warmth to offer. One of the other elements which furthers that, is how far from glamorised it is, it’s extremely honest about their struggle to keep the club going, the state of the clubhouse, the need for funding and how all of that feeds into their internal conflicts.

It comes with the territory, creative types will always have creative differences, and especially when you’re talking about people with strong personalities. It’s one of the interesting aspects of this story, to watch the infighting, their disagreements and ultimately, their forgiveness as they’d never sacrifice their love of the club, for an argument. It shows a sincere commitment and care, which when you truly think about it, is not something you see that often. It also keenly shows how difficult it is to continue tradition in this day and age, things are so constantly moving forward that it’s a challenge to get people to take an interest in heritage. Not to mention that the majority of the club is of the older generation, which only feeds into the struggle to find new blood, particularly when you can feel that their attitudes are understandably shaped by an old-fashioned style.

There’s a key tone of honesty to the way that Kim Hopkins tells this story, and it’s an effective tool to hold your attention well. The only dip to that is when it gets into the territory of Covid-19, traversing lockdown and social distancing is an unfortunate reminder for a society still trying to tussle out of its grips. With the separation of its members, it unfortunately also strains the personality to the story but it is still there. Outside of that exception, it moves well, it creates a bubble in which this club exists, acknowledging the outside world but having a strong focus on their community alone. Hopkins’ directorial style stays very close, making you a part of their conversation rather than simply feeling like an observer, it puts you alongside them and succinctly tells things from their perspective. It has a simplicity to it which parallels its subjects, to go with a heavier or more stylistic aesthetic would have only done this group an injustice, it lets them speak for themselves.

A Bunch of Amateurs surrounds itself with friendship, commitment and tradition, following a charmingly natural and close community, passionate about filmmaking. There’s a hint of sadness in their struggle to keep going the club that means the world to them, but their refusal to quit also brings a ray of hope. Hopkins frames their story with honesty and a grounded style, transplanting you into their small but hugely enthusiastic world. It’s sweet and funny but also humble and unfiltered.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of Sheffield DocFest 2022

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