9 October 2020

“It’s film, Jim, but not as we know it”. That echo of a Star Trek catchphrase seemed as apt a sentiment as any at the launch of the AFU’s first ever online screening last Wednesday evening. For many years, we have been accustomed to welcoming a loud and lively mix of pupils, parents, filmmakers and film lovers to the Amey Theatre, all lured by the prospect of free food, drink and the latest batch of new films from the AFU stable. And whether it’s the refreshments or the films, the craic at these events is always legendary.

However, nothing about 2020 has been what we’re used to, so it was in a markedly different atmosphere that a small group of staff – Amey Theatre Technical Director Nick Lloyd, Assistant Technical Director George Killick, and AFU Director Jeremy Taylor – gathered in front of a bank of socially distant computer screens in the theatre foyer, to beam five new films by first-time AFU directors to a remote audience. As the autumn light faded, a sense of other-worldliness not unlike that experienced by the characters on the bridge of the USS Enterprise was enhanced by the deep red glow of theatre lighting created by Nick and George as part of the global “Light It In Red” campaign that aims to highlight the current plight of those who work in the arts and entertainment industries.

Despite that, as soon as the films began to roll, any sense of isolation was forgotten as each film drew us into the warmth of its storytelling circle. First up was Alexander Lees’ passionate “Love Letter to The Watermill”, a portrait of Newbury’s theatrical jewel that began as a quest to find out what it’s like to run a provincial theatre but became even more compelling as the film charted the forced closure of the theatre in March, and its efforts to counter the icy economic blast of the pandemic.


That was followed by Oli Clark’s “Troubled Waters”, a moving and uplifting account of record-breaking windsurfer Simon Bornhoft’s battle against illness, and his sister Sally’s selfless support. “Mama Uganda”, Harry Litchfield’s debut film, opened in a Buckinghamshire Maternity Hospital car park but soon transported us to the red dirt roads of Uganda and the extraordinary work of midwife Rhi Grindle, who has created Mama, a charity operating in Uganda, to improve prospects for mothers and babies in a country where giving birth carries far more risks than it does in Britain.

Next up was “Upriver”, an extraordinarily passionate piece of filmmaking by Alex Heffernan that told the story of the systematic pollution of the River Windrush in Oxfordshire by a commercial water company. Finally, Oliver Millbourn’s “Numpie” was a moving portrait of Anna (affectionately known as ‘Numpie’) and Max, Oli’s aunt and uncle, and the impact on them of Anna’s multiple sclerosis. In the film’s final sequence, Max offered an insight that seemed as much a message for the wider world as a comment on his own experience: “It’s made me aware of the importance of kindness… kindness can never be anything but good.”

The screening concluded with the presentation of one of two awards in memory of the AFU’s legendary co-founder, OA and renowned documentarist Michael Grigsby. The “Spirit of Grigsby” Award, which recognises one or more filmmakers who have shown the kind of precocious talent Grigsby himself demonstrated as a boy at Abingdon, was presented jointly to Alex Heffernan and Oliver Millbourn.

The screening is available to view again – or for those who missed it – here.

In addition to Nick Lloyd and George Killick, we owe a huge debt of thanks to Steve King who filmed the students’ introductions, and of course, to the AFU’s dedicated film tutors – Matt Copson, Mads Junker, Colin O’Toole and Duncan Pickstock.

There will be two further screenings of new films this term. The first takes place at 7pm on Wednesday 11 November, while the third and final screening of 2020 will take place at 7pm on Monday 7 December. Both will feature films by senior members of the AFU as well as work by Abingdon Film Academy students – pupils from our partner schools at John Mason, Larkmead and Fitzharrys. You can register in advance for a link to watch these screenings here.

More News