15 minutes with Jeremy Taylor, Director of Arts Partnerships and the Abingdon Film Unit (AFU)

Films produced by the AFU have ranged from ‘wildlife’ to ‘breakfast’ and everything in between. Outward looking, they rely on the creativity, adaptability, determination and persuasiveness of their directors – transferable skills cementing the notion that time within the AFU is time well-spent. In 2022, the number of films made by the AFU surpassed 200, placing its filmmaking accomplishments between BBC Films and Lionsgate(!) which is no mean feat. Many have been screened by the National Film Institute, a number have won awards and some former AFU members have gone on to have affluent careers in the industry.

The brainchild of then Head of Drama, Jeremy Taylor and renowned British documentary maker (and old boy) Michael Grigsby – this September marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the AFU. Dedicated entirely to the production of film, with access to a team of industry professionals who are available to mentor students and their work, it seems quite remarkable that Abingdon remains to this day only one of a handful of schools which offers this type of provision to its students.

Asked how the AFU came to be, Mr Taylor comments: “Primarily, the AFU was created to support our drama syllabus and I don’t think Michael Grigsby’s role in its formation can be underestimated. He was passionate about filmmaking and had a deep understanding of the intricacies and processes needed for a film to be successful – he wanted to impart those skills and make them accessible to others. He also recognised the value to students that working alongside industry professionals could bring.

“I think Grigsby would be heartened to see how the AFU has evolved over the years and how it offers opportunity both to students at Abingdon and to young people from other local schools, through our partnerships work.

“Ultimately, our role is to encourage students to strive for the very best results they can achieve and their skill is evidenced in the films they produce, many of which offer a rare insight into society today. Over the last year alone, AFU students have produced films covering a remarkable range of topics. From American air force drone pilots and Oxfordshire artists; to a community group providing a cycle training facility for young people and what boarders really get up to while their families are on the other side of the world! Whilst the work of these students is remarkable, what is additionally inspiring are the projects which AFU tutors have also been involved with at our partnership schools, where a further 14 films involving over 70 students, have been produced in the last 12 months.

“Our offering is not purely contained within the AFU either. The Lent term has seen the launch of the 2023 season of the Oxfordshire Academy of Broadcast Journalism workshops; as well as an OX14 playwriting competition; and we have a partnerships songwriting scheme in the pipeline. All these things, combined with the 20th anniversary of the AFU, make it a busy and exciting time to be involved in arts partnership activities at Abingdon and across the town.”

Much of this success will be celebrated at the British Film Institute, Southbank on 13 September. Key staff and AFU members, both past and present, will have the opportunity to enjoy 2 private screenings of current and historic work, whilst connecting with each other and reflecting on the many accomplishments of the AFU – accomplishments which simply would not have been possible without the foresight of a drama teacher and a former student.

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