Free Cinema

Free Cinema was a documentary film movement that emerged in the United Kingdom in the mid-1950s. The term referred to an absence of propagandised intent or deliberate box office appeal. Co-founded by Lindsay Anderson, (though he later disdained the 'movement' tag), with Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lorenza Mazzetti, the movement began with a programme of three short films at the National Film Theatre, London, on 5 February 1956. The programme was such a success that five more programmes appeared under the ‘Free Cinema’ banner before the founders decided to end the series. The last event was held in March 1959. Three of the screenings consisted of work from overseas film makers. [1]


Anderson and Reisz had previously founded, with Gavin Lambert, the short-lived, but influential journal Sequence, of which Anderson later wrote '"No Film Can Be Too Personal". So ran the initial pronouncement in the first Free Cinema manifesto. It could equally well have been the motto of SEQUENCE'.[2]

The manifesto was drawn up by Anderson and Mazzetti at a Charing Cross cafe called ‘The Soup Kitchen’, where Mazzetti worked. It read:

These films were not made together; nor with the idea of showing them together. But when they came together, we felt they had an attitude in common. Implicit in this attitude is a belief in freedom, in the importance of people and the significance of the everyday.

As filmmakers we believe that
      No film can be too personal.
      The image speaks. Sound amplifies and comments.
      Size is irrelevant. Perfection is not an aim.
      An attitude means a style. A style means an attitude. [3]

At an interview in 2001, Mazzetti explained that the reference to size was prompted by the then-new experiments in CinemaScope and other large screen formats. "The image speaks" was an assertion of the primacy of the image over the sound. Reisz said that ‘An attitude means a style’ meant that ‘a style is not a matter of camera angles or fancy footwork, it's an expression, an accurate expression of your particular opinion’.[4]

The first ‘Free Cinema’ programme featured just three films:

  1. Anderson's O Dreamland (1953), previously unshown, about an amusement park in Margate, Kent
  2. Reisz and Richardson's Momma Don't Allow (1956), about a Wood Green (North London) jazz club
  3. Mazzetti's Together (1956), a fiction based on a short story by Denis Horne about a pair of deaf-mute dockworkers in London's East End.[5]

The films were accompanied by the above provocative film manifesto, written chiefly by Anderson, which brought the film-makers valuable publicity. Later programmes brought in like minded filmmakers, among them Alain Tanner and Claude Goretta (with Nice Time), Michael Grigsby and Robert Vas. The two film technicians closely associated with the movement were Walter Lassally and John Fletcher. The three of the six programmes were devoted to foreign work, including the new Polish cinema (fourth programme), emerging French New Wave (fifth programme); and American independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin was invited to screen his ground breaking film On the Bowery at the second ‘Free Cinema’ programme in September 1956. [6] That event also included Norman McLaren's Neighbours and Georges Franju's Le Sang des bêtes . [7]


The films were 'free' in the sense that they were made outside the confines of the film industry and were distinguished by their style and attitude and the conditions of production. All of the films were made cheaply, for no more than a few hundred pounds, mostly with grants from the British Film Institute's Experimental Film Fund. Some of the later films were sponsored by the Ford Motor Company or funded independently. They were typically shot in black and white on 16mm film, using lightweight, hand-held cameras, usually with a non-synchronised soundtrack added separately. Most of the films deliberately omitted narration. The film-makers shared a determination to focus on ordinary, largely working-class British subjects. They felt these people had been overlooked by the middle-class-dominated British film industry of the time.

The founders of the movement were dismissive of mainstream documentary film-making in Britain, particularly of the Documentary Film Movement of the 1930s and 1940s associated with John Grierson, although they made an exception for Humphrey Jennings. Another acknowledged influence was French director Jean Vigo (1905–34). Free Cinema bears some similarities to the cinéma vérité and Direct Cinema movements.


Free Cinema was a major influence on the British New Wave of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and all of the founders except Mazzetti would make films associated with the movement. Richardson directed Look Back in Anger (1958), A Taste of Honey (1961) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962); Reisz directed Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960); and Anderson directed This Sporting Life (1963) and If.... (1969).

Many of these films have also been categorized as part of the kitchen sink realism genre, and many of them are adaptations of novels or plays written by members of Britain's so-called "angry young men".

See also


  1. ^ Arts: The British Free Cinema movement-Film-The Guardian
  2. ^ SEQUENCE: Introduction to a Reprint, Lindsay Anderson Archive, University of Stirling, accessed 13 February 2008
  3. ^ Free Cinema
  4. ^ Interview in 2001 at BFI involving Free Cinema pioneers David Robinson, Walter Lassally, Lorenza Mazzetti and Karel Reisz, chaired by Kevin MacDonald
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Nonfiction Film: A Critical History by Richard Meran Barsam-Google Books
  7. ^ BFI-Sight & Sound-Free Cinema Programmes

External links

Alain Tanner

Alain Tanner (born 6 December 1929) is a Swiss film director.

Anthony Simmons (writer)

Anthony Simmons (16 December 1922 – 22 January 2016) was a British writer and film director. He was associated with, though separate from, the Free Cinema movement; he said he was greatly influenced by Humphrey Jennings and by Michelangelo Antonioni’s movie Il Grido (1957).

BFI Southbank

BFI Southbank (from 1951 to 2007 known as the National Film Theatre) is the leading repertory cinema in the UK, specialising in seasons of classic, independent and non-English language films. It is operated by the British Film Institute.

British New Wave

The British New Wave is a style of films released in Great Britain between 1959 and 1963. The label is a translation of Nouvelle Vague, the French term first applied to the films of François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard among others.

Documentary Film Movement

The Documentary Film Movement is the group of British filmmakers, led by John Grierson, who were influential in British film culture in the 1930s and 1940s.

Every Day Except Christmas

Every Day Except Christmas is a 37-minute documentary film filmed in 1957 at the Covent Garden fruit, vegetable and flower market, then located in the Covent Garden area of East central London. It was directed by Lindsay Anderson and produced by Karel Reisz and Leon Clore under the sponsorship of Ford of Britain, the first of the company's "Look at Britain" series.Every Day and other short, mostly documentary films made within two or three years, reflected the concept of Free Cinema, films which were "free" in the sense that they were made outside the traditional structure of filmmaking.The film received a BAFTA nomination for Best Documentary; and won the Grand Prix at the Venice Festival of Shorts and Documentaries.

Jack Gold

Jack Gold (28 June 1930 – 9 August 2015) was a British film and television director. He was part of the British realist tradition which followed the Free Cinema movement.

Karel Reisz

Karel Reisz (21 July 1926 – 25 November 2002) was a Czech-born British filmmaker who was active in post–World War II Britain, and one of the pioneers of the new realist strain in British cinema during the 1950s and 1960s.

Lindsay Anderson

Lindsay Gordon Anderson (17 April 1923 – 30 August 1994) was a British feature film, theatre and documentary director, film critic, and leading light of the Free Cinema movement and the British New Wave. He is most widely remembered for his 1968 film if...., which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival and was Malcolm McDowell's cinematic debut. He is also notable, though not a professional actor, for playing a minor role in the Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire. McDowell produced a 2007 documentary about his experiences with Anderson, Never Apologize.

Lists of British films

This is chronological list of films produced in the United Kingdom split by decade. There may be an overlap, particularly between British and American films which are sometimes co-produced; the list should attempt to document films which are either British produced or strongly associated with British culture. Please see the detailed A-Z of films currently covered on Wikipedia at Category:British films.

Lorenza Mazzetti

Lorenza Mazzetti (born 1927 in Florence) is an Italian film director, novelist, photographer and painter.

Luke Fowler

Luke Fowler (born 1978) is an artist, filmmaker and musician based in Glasgow. He studied printmaking at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. He creates cinematic collages that have often been linked to the British Free Cinema movement of the 1950s. His documentary films have explored counter cultural figures including Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing and English composer Cornelius Cardew

Media of Hungary

Mass media of Hungary includes a variety of online, print, and broadcast formats, such as radio, television, newspapers, and magazines.

Press freedom has been declining under prime minister Viktor Orbán. In 2010, Freedom House's press freedom index ranked Hungary’s media as the world's 40th freest. As of 2017, the rank of Hungary’s media had dropped to 87th freest, and Freedom House says it is only "partly free."

Momma Don't Allow

Momma Don't Allow is a short British documentary film of 1955 about a show of the Chris Barber band with Ottilie Patterson in a north London trad jazz club. The film features skip jiving by the audience.

It was co-directed by Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson and filmed by Walter Lassally. It was produced by the British Film Institute Experimental Film Fund. It was first shown as part of the first Free cinema programme at the National Film Theatre in February 1956.

Nice Time

Nice Time is a 1957 documentary film made by Alain Tanner and Claude Goretta in Britain and included in the third Free Cinema programme at the National Film Theatre, London in May 1957. It won the Experimental Film prize at the film festival in Venice and much critical praise.

It is approximately 17 minutes in length, and comprises 190 shots of crowds of leisure-seeking people taken over 25 weekends in London's Piccadilly Circus. There is no narration, and no dialogue; a soundtrack consisting of several folk songs (including the American song "Greenback Dollar" and other skiffle songs) ties shots together into groups, while there is little recorded sound from the scenes shown on screen.

The filmmakers, both in their late twenties, made the documentary on a shoestring budget after receiving a grant of £240 from the British Film Institute. Chief among the film's subjects are movies and other entertainment; flirting, sex, and prostitution; and salesmanship and commodity culture.

O Dreamland

O Dreamland is a 1953 documentary short film by British film director Lindsay Anderson.The documentary was made in 1953 by Anderson and his cameraman/assistant, John Fletcher, using a single 16mm camera and an audiotape recorder. Once completed, the film was initially shelved, with Anderson commenting, "you don't do anything with a 10-minute, 16-millimetre film. It's just there, that's all." In 1956 however, he was inspired to include it as part of the first Free Cinema programme.The black-and-white film is a 12-minute exploration of the Dreamland funfair in Margate, Kent and has no commentary but is accompanied by background noises and music.Gavin Lambert, a key supporter of the Free Cinema movement, said of the film "Everything is ugly... It is almost too much. The nightmare is redeemed by the point of view, which, for all the unsparing candid camerawork and the harsh, inelegant photography, is emphatically humane. Pity, sadness, even poetry is infused into this drearily tawdry, aimlessly hungry world."

Opera film

An opera film is a recording of an opera on film.

Sequence (journal)

Sequence was a short-lived but influential British film journal founded in 1947 by Lindsay Anderson, Gavin Lambert and Karel Reisz.

Anderson had returned to Oxford after his time with the army Intelligence Corps in Delhi, Lambert was a schoolfriend of Anderson from Cheltenham College who had dropped out of English at Magdalen College on discovering that he would have to study Middle English under C. S. Lewis, while Reisz was a chemistry graduate from Emmanuel College, Cambridge who later said "I met Lindsay Anderson on a Green Line bus. I was going to the British Film Institute to look at some film for my editing book and he was going to see Ford's The Iron Horse."Founded as the Film Society Magazine, the organ of the Oxford Film Society, in 1947, with Penelope Houston as its first editor, the journal quickly changed its name to Sequence, and produced fourteen issues between 1947 and 1952, the last few being edited by Reisz and Anderson. The British Free Cinema movement, co-founded in 1956 by Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lorenza Mazzetti, drew on the principles first expressed by the journal. Articles from Sequence by Anderson were published in Lindsay Anderson: The Collected Writings edited by Paul Ryan (London: Plexus, 2004).

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