A Bunch of Amateurs Review: A Cine-Love Letter to Movies

2023 ReFrame Film Festival

5 mins read

A Bunch of Amateurs
(UK, 99 min.)
Dir. Kim Hopkins


In her 1995 essay, The Decay of Cinema, Susan Sontag laments the death of cinephilia. “If cinephilia is dead, then movies are dead too,” she writes. This line opens Kim Hopkins’ delightful and affecting documentary, A Bunch of Amateurs, a portrait of the current members of the Bradford Movie Makers, one of England’s oldest filmmaking societies, formed in 1932. The terms “cinephile” and “cinephilia” tend to have snobbish connotations, as Sontag acknowledges herself, but Hopkins has managed to create a film about a group of devoted cinephiles that is undoubtedly funny, while being entirely sincere and completely unpretentious.

Several decades ago the film club was a thriving society of cinephiles and self-proclaimed amateur filmmakers with a waiting list several years long. By 2019, the time of filming, the group barely filled half of the quaint theatre, where they convene every Monday to watch classic Hollywood films, as well as their own extensive and eclectic cinematic works.

The building in which the theatre resides is decaying, the exterior entryway has become a graveyard for broken appliances, and the film society is five years late on rent. On the verge of bankruptcy, the club’s survival has become largely dependent on the leniency of their landlord. And yet, the biggest challenges faced by the film’s protagonists are human fragility and mortality. Fortunately, the existence of the club ensures that they meet these hardships collectively, with good humour, and plenty of creative zeal.

Harry, a former magician in his mid-eighties, wants to recreate the opening scene of the musical Oklahoma! where Gordon MacRae rides a white stallion through a cornfield singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’.” The trouble is, Harry has never ridden a horse and 86 is a hell of an age to start. His fellow amateur filmmakers attempt to dissuade him from undertaking this project by emphasising its absurdity, but when it’s clear he is steadfast in his desire, they work their movie magic to see it through. One can’t help but chuckle as you watch the behind-the-scene footage of the recreation of this iconic scene; yet, the absurdity of it all is subverted when Harry reveals Oklahoma! was the first film he saw in theatres with his now ailing wife whom he cares for in their living room. His artistic vision is not fueled solely by the romanticization of youth and Hollywood’s golden age, but just as much by love.

Notably, many of the members of the film club are caregivers in one form or another. Colin, the most senior member of the club, who is terribly concerned with the maintenance and upkeep of the physical space, looks after his wife who has dementia. Phil, one of the youngest members in his forties, cares for his disabled brother, and relies on the club as his main creative and social outlet. And there’s Joe, a Disability Support Volunteer whose membership with the club provides him with a stronger sense of self: “I can call myself Joe, filmmaker. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t go there (to the club) and if I didn’t make films. I’d just be Joe.”

Acts of care are continuously demonstrated by the protagonists throughout the documentary interpersonally, professionally, and creatively. Moreover, the film is a creative act of care towards its subjects. Perhaps A Bunch of Amateurs is Hopkins’ interpretation of Sontag’s notion that cinema’s only chance of survival is through a new form of “cine-love,” where a consuming passion for people and cinema is inseparable.


A Bunch of Amateurs streams at the 2023 ReFrame Film Festival through Feb. 3.

Allegra Moyle is a Montreal-based writer and journalist with experience in both print and audio storytelling. Her work has been featured in POV, CBC Montreal, CBC Radio and more. She also has a background in film and cultural programming.

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