The Cambridge Document


There is no such thing as British cinema.

There have been, and are, filmmakers and videomakers who work in Britain. There has been, is, can be, such a thing as cinema made in Britain, but there has never been anything as coherent as a tradition, or a group of more than a handful of filmmakers at any one time who recognised themselves as sharing a common goal or ideological orientation.

This is not a complaint, simply an observation. In fact, the reason there is no such thing as British cinema is that Britain, as a socio-political project, does not need cinema. Britain is an extension of the ideological priorities of the United States of America. A British film, conceived as such, is as contrived an object as a novel in the Cornish language; a concept from one era (Britain as a distinct cultural entity) is being yoked to a concept from another (the art of cinema). Film production is possible, and indeed happens on a frequent basis; the works which result are almost universally worthless as art. This is not, of course, to say that they are not of tremendous interest sociologically; much could be written about the degree to which the UK Film Council’s most recent complete year of concoctions could be read as a multi-faceted narrative of cultural self-loathing; but we are not sociologists.

All art of value recognises itself as part of an endeavour which transcends, aims to eliminate, national boundaries. Nations do not make films any more than banks do, or rather, the films nations make are no more cinema than are the films made by banks.

Most British cinematic projects have been, and remain, invalidated by a sense of duty to a national/capitalist conception of identity. It is a truism that art is self-expression, an expression of the ideas and/or emotions which motivate the maker, yet in Britain this has never been obvious. British cinema can only justify itself, we are told, by saying something about being British. But all other cinema begins by speaking about the human condition. Is the veil of Orientalism fluttering westward? Must British cinema foreground its nationality, attempt to create a sense of exoticism? Apparently so.

We approach cinema, whether filmmaking or videomaking, from the beginning. We are influenced by countless artists, some of whom are British, but we do not seek a place in the capitalist/statist myth of a national identity. If our activity has a model, it is the vibrant filmmaking culture which flowered in Iran during the early eighties and has yet to die out. Iran, a country which had scarcely any history in serious filmmaking, became a centre of activity because a new generation of filmmakers realised they had nothing to lose and refused to be discouraged by their inevitably marginalised status as non-Hollywood, non-English-language filmmakers. Now, Iran is becoming a centre of meaningful work in digital video also.

No British filmmaker or videomaker has any more of a tradition from which to take succour than did the Iranian filmmakers of almost thirty years ago. This gives anyone attempting to make films in Britain now a tremendous freedom. With the exception of a few isolated lights, there is no tradition of any artistic legitimacy to be fearful of betraying. We live and work on a blasted plain. We have no excuses.

The camera is a pen. It moves, arranges together elements, creates frames, draws comparisons, uses metaphors, similes. An inexpressive work of whatever technical resources reveals nothing about the means, only about the limitations of the maker utilising them.

No camera is more auspicious than any other. The 35mm camera has connotations of legitimacy secured by its use in commercial film production and its necessary associations with institutional funding. We are poor, and must make do with what we can. Any image-making device can legitimately be utilised to create cinema: we look forward to the first serious work originated entirely on mobile ‘phones.


We embrace the accusation of illegitimacy – to be illegitimate and irrelevant to the priorities of the mainstream marketplace, and the espresso-film orthodoxy of much “independent” distribution is to be relevant to the true condition of the people, and it is relevance to their emotions and legitimacy of form which concerns us. We work using the resources we do because we must create work from where we are, now, bearing witness to the poverty which we experience. To wait, or to organise economically in order to enable ourselves to approximate the technical conditions of ostensibly legitimate cinema, would be to falsify whatever it is we have to express.

Our works express the material means available to us as much as does any work, from any time. A typical Hollywood-identified production (that is, a production which, regardless of its actual country of origin, ties its wagon to the constellation of ideologies we identify as “Hollywood”) bears witness to the means of its creation, from the airless atmosphere, the sense in which people are equated to pixels, made weightless, of no regard politically at the same moment they become of no regard physically, to small details like the immaculacy of the costumes, every element of which has VISIBLY been made in triplicate (at least); all testifies to a vision which has lost sight of the world beyond its controlling agency.

Every film is a dialogue between intention and means, between the eye of the cinema-maker and the world in which, rather than at which, that eye looks. Without that dialogue, there is no cinema. A vision which can bend all circumstances to its will, which is the expression of a closed-eye, dreaming fantasies of violence, half-memories, misunderstood, of other films; a vision which is selftalk in images rather than truly a worldview, a view of the world – this is not a vision which can have any hope of nourishing.

Any literature which aspires to matter has travelled far from the nineteenth-century notion of realism, a notion which has always been inadequate to the aims of liberation and which now appears increasingly indefensible. Social realism is the oppressive vision of the normative, and of no more use to any serious attempt to change our society than an eighteenth-century Whig editorial.

About the British realist film tradition there is nothing to be said; it is a tradition of ideology, professional academic allegiance and television-making, not a tradition of art. It is a tradition of complacency, of entrenched power: realism looks at suffering from a position of power. Our work looks at power from the perspective of the suffering.

Recurrently, the critical discourse in Britain has rushed back to the lie of realism, to a fear of personal, individual vision. For this reason, we do not expect or hope to make sense in a British context. Our context is international, the sense we make is in the context of eternity.

The undersigned are dedicated to the task of bearing witness to emotional states through the deployment of form, and through this, to the transformation of our society.

Cambridge, 5th of November, 2008 

Luke Aspell - Joseph Bell - Stuart Gipp - Amy Hodgson - Kenneth Lauder - Graham Lockey - Joshua Meyland

The initial signatories of the Cambridge Document are current and former students at Anglia Ruskin University / the Cambridge School of Art.