4 November 2022

Over the last twelve months, Abingdon’s filmmakers have relished the chance to make films with fewer constraints after the interruptions of the past two years. Nonetheless, there were still some films at this week’s 19th Annual Film Unit Screening that had been delayed by the pandemic, so it was especially gratifying to see those reaching the screen at last.

The thirteen new films on display took to over 200 the number of student films produced by members of the AFU since its founding in 2003, which is a tribute to the vision and generosity of those who responded so enthusiastically back then to the idea of a school film unit; to the professional filmmakers who share their expertise as tutors, and above all, to the countless AFU students who have taken up the challenge of making films during this time. As he welcomed punters to the event, sixth form filmmaker Theo Shorrocks congratulated members of the Unit past and present on this significant milestone and playfully informed the audience that if they cared to google the number of films major production companies have produced, they’d be amused to see that the AFU’s new tally places it 7th in a league table topped by Universal Pictures (303), and nestling comfortably between BBC Films (166) and Lionsgate (209)! Yet as AFU director Jeremy Taylor reminded the audience in his programme note, numbers alone are meaningless. What really matters is the AFU’s commitment to encouraging its students to strive for the very best results they can achieve. Certainly, among the thirteen films on view were some that stood alongside the very best that can be seen in cinemas or on television screens.

As always, the students’ films covered a remarkable range of subjects. We were invited to spend time with an American Airforce drone pilot, a distinguished Italian photographer, an Oxfordshire artist, a wildlife volunteer and members of a community group responsible for a unique cycle training facility for young people. We also took to the seas and travelled to the Isle of Mull; we found out what some boarders really get up to while their families are on the other side of the world; we heard what it’s like to work with a distinguished orchestral conductor, and learned why film photography is making an unexpected comeback among young people. Finally, we were taken to a trio of fictional destinations designed to amuse, unsettle, inform, or in one case, positively spook us, …it was Halloween week, after all.

Afterwards, Mr Taylor congratulated all the filmmakers on their tremendous achievements, and presented two Grigsby Awards (honouring the OA, legendary documentarist and AFU co-founder Michael Grigsby) to Alex Heffernan (The Spirit of Grigsby Award) and Theo Shorrocks (The Young Filmmaker of the Year Award). He also reminded us that the films on display were but a part of the output of the Unit in 2021/22, as AFU tutors had also worked with students at Larkmead and Fitzharrys Schools in projects lasting from half a term to a couple of days, and helped them produce a further 14 films involving over 70 pupils. Looking ahead, he invited everyone to join him around this time next year, when the AFU will be striving to mark its 20th anniversary in appropriate style at the BFI in London.

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