From Morris Men to a premiership referee, the subjects for the 14th annual screening of new films by members of the Abingdon Film Unit (AFU) were as diverse as they were fascinating. The screening of 11 new films took place at Abingdon School and reflected a bumper year in terms of the range of projects undertaken by the Unit and its alumni.
The AFU enables students aged 13 to 18 to make their own short films under the guidance of a team of industry professionals assembled by a renowned documentary maker, the late Michael Grigsby. The AFU’s students are predominantly from Abingdon School but some come from other senior schools.
Of the 11 new films screened, several took their inspiration from the local community including a touching portrait of the Abingdon Morris Men, a look at the quirky atmosphere of a board games café in Oxford and an uplifting account of Abingdon resident Graham Scott's progress from youth team goalie to top Premiership football referee. A particularly thought-provoking piece was a film made by three Abingdon School students in support of Sobell House, a facility for terminally ill patients based at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.
The AFU filmmakers also looked beyond their immediate environments for stories that engaged with the wider world. These included a strikingly topical look at the anxieties of residents on the Winstanley Estate in Battersea as they face a period of regeneration driven by architects and town planners, and a hand-drawn animation that tackled Brexit via the unlikely setting of a flower bed and a municipal park bench. The final film of the evening told the epic story of one Abingdon School student’s great, great grandfather Arthur Bonsey and his brave work as a missionary in China at the end of the 19th century.
Jeremy Taylor, Director of Drama at Abingdon and in charge of the Film Unit, congratulated all the young filmmakers saying, “Making a film is a very significant challenge for anyone, let alone a relatively young person. It requires a wide range of attributes, including tenacity and patience. Anyone who successfully completes that challenge has not only learned things about filmmaking, but about themselves.”
The Michael Grigsby Young Filmmaker Awards went to two students, Harry Buchan, for his film about the Winstanley Estate, and to Joe Bradley for the film about his great, great grandfather’s missionary work.
Joe said, “It's always a nervous experience, watching your film in the company of others, but I was really pleased to see it connect with the audience at the screening on Saturday. To win an award was a fantastic surprise, especially since my film is quite a personal, family story. I know Mike Grigsby's amazing reputation, and it's an honour to win an award in his name.
Harry added, “Getting the award is like all your work is being recognised, sure you have a film, but it's the award that shows everyone that you have something special”.
To date, the AFU has produced nearly 150 films, many of which have won a number of awards and been screened at festivals in America, France, Sweden, Hong Kong and throughout the UK. Festivals include Raindance, the London International Documentary Festival and the BFI’s Future Film Festival. Awards include Best Documentary, Best Fiction and Best Animation at the Future Film Festival in London, and the National Young Filmmaker’s Award at the Leeds Student Film Festival. In addition, an AFU film, Gravel and Stones, achieved a commercial dvd release in France. AFU members have made films in Cambodia, Moldova, China and Hong Kong.