The Free Cinema Movement is a group of filmmakers who work with and promote the use of super 8mm film.

The movement began in London at the Institute of Contemporary Arts where a number of filmmakers including Peter Gidal, Tony Richardson, and Lindsay Anderson shared a common interest in the film medium.

The movement is also considered to be a precursor of the British Free Cinema Movement. Towards the end of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s, filmmakers became more and more interested in avant-garde cinema.

What Is Free Cinema

What Is Free Cinema?

Free Cinema was a documentary film movement that emerged in Britain in the mid-1950s. The term referred to an absence of propagandized intent or deliberate box office appeal.

Co-founded by Lindsay Anderson, though he later disdained the “Free” label, with Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, and Lorenza Mazzetti, the movement began at the National Film Theatre, London, on February 12, 1956.

The launch event included the premiere of Richardson’s Momma Don’t Allow (1955), a short documentary featuring jazz musicians at the Hackney Empire theatre in East London.

This event also included the work of other filmmakers associated with Free Cinema, such as Edgar Anstey and Horace Ove.



Free Cinema continued with six further programs – each program usually including work from several filmmakers, throughout 1956 and into 1957.

The last event was held in March 1957. Two of its six programs, ‘We Are the Lambeth Boys’ and ‘Momma Don’t Allow.’

What Is The Free Cinema Movement?

This new experimental genre involved various techniques such as jump cuts and quick cuts, freeze frames, long takes, and zoom lenses.

The main focus was on the content of their films rather than their technological aspects.

However, they still used professional cameras, projectors, and other film equipment to complete their films.

Through this movement, filmmakers such as Tony Richardson wanted to introduce cinema as an art form rather than just entertainment like it was during its time.

Thus, he began making short films that were mainly shot on location with available light only.

This style was very different than Hollywood movies at that time which were usually shot indoors without any natural light or on sound stages with artificial lighting. 

What Was The Free Cinema Manifesto

The Free Cinema manifesto was a manifesto for an avant-garde movement in British film. It was written in 1956 by the British film critic and filmmaker Lindsay Anderson, who was leading the movement, with help from co-signatories Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lorenza Mazzetti.


The manifesto had three main points: That films should be made outside of the mainstream film industry; that they should be experimental in form; and that they should deal with real life using location shooting, hand-held cameras and natural sound. 

The term “Free Cinema” was coined by Anderson to describe the type of cinema he wanted to practice.

The first Free Cinema magazine was entitled “Free Cinema”. It came out in Spring 1956, before the films and featured writings by Anderson, Reisz, Richardson and Mazzetti. The manifesto’s stated aims were: 

  1. To allow filmmakers to express themselves free of control by funding bodies (including government) or political parties
  2. To allow filmmakers to find new ways of expression 
  3. To allow audiences to see a broad spectrum of films as well as making films accessible to them 
  4. To allow films to be more responsive to their environment (in terms of both location shooting and funding)

Free Cinema’s Major Players

DV Free Cinema is a documentary film movement formed in the United Kingdom in the late 1950s and the early 1960s.

 It was associated with the British New Wave of filmmaking. Free Cinema was also the title of a film compilation issued by the British Film Institute in 1956, which included a number of short films shown as part of the first Free Cinema programme at the National Film Theatre on May 23, 1956.

The programme was introduced by Richard Lester and chaired by Lindsay Anderson, who was one of the most prominent figures in the movement. 

The term “Free Cinema” was coined by Anderson when he used it as the title of his 1958 pamphlet for the film magazine Sequence: An Anthology of Independent Cinema, which had been founded by Anderson and Karel Reisz in 1955.

The pamphlet expressed Anderson’s belief in the need to break away from the formal techniques characterising narrative cinema (as epitomised by Hollywood) and to return to a more documentary style. 

This would, according to Anderson, allow filmmakers greater freedom; they would be free from stylised plots and slick professional acting, giving them greater ability to communicate their personal vision to an audience.

History Of The Free Cinema Movement

The story of the Free Cinema Movement is a continuous tale, contingent on unexpected developments. It is not something you can plan in advance, and it has no fixed end. In fact, the Free Cinema Movement might have not even come into existence if it wasn’t for some lucky coincidences that took place in the early 1950s.

The two main protagonists were Lindsay Anderson and Bryanston Moore. The first was a film maker who had just graduated with a BA degree in philosophy from Oxford University and who was struggling to enter the film industry; the second was an affluent advertising executive who worked in Soho Square, London.

They were brought together by a shared passion for the works of Russian filmmakerfilm maker Sergei Eisenstein.

 Lindsay Anderson was particularly fond of Battleship Potemkin (1925), which he considered to be one of the greatest achievements in film history. 

He was convinced that he could create something equally impressive himself – but with his friends instead of professional actors.

In order to realize his dream, he decided to take advantage of a little-known rule that allowed students to use their university’s equipment outside working hours.

This also meant that they had to work fast if they wanted to avoid getting caught by prying eyes.


Lindsay Anderson wanted to create an alternative to the British “documentary tradition”. He and other directors then founded the London Film-Makers’ Co-op in 1957. 

The co-operative had two main aims: to make films within a cooperative framework and to show these films outside commercial cinema settings.

Towards this end, the organisation was formed as a distribution network. They took overpremises on Caledonian Road in north London in which they showed their own productions and those of others.

Films were exhibited in various locations including schools, factories, community centres and offices. The organisation was able to show its films without charge because they were not run like a commercial enterprise – the filmmakers did not receive payment for their work.

Instead, they relied on donations from members of the public who went along to screenings and also from sponsorship from local businesses who saw value in having their products promoted through film. 

The group’s most famous production is Look at Britain (1958) which consisted of 10short films by different directors including Anderson himself, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson. Other early examples include Michael Grigsby’s Ten Years (1957), about a strike at a factory.

Top Free Cinema Movement Filmmakers

The British Free Cinema movement was a major development in the emergence of ‘Free Cinema’ as an alternative to the prevailing commercial attitudes of British cinema. An important element of this was the establishment of the Free Cinema documentary movement, which sought to make documentaries without a political message.

The term Free Cinema was first used by Lindsay Anderson at a screening in 1954, and it soon became associated with an annual event organised by Anderson (with Barry Salt) at the National Film Theatre which showed examples of recent European avant-garde film. The first screening took place on March 7, 1956, with programmes that included L’Avventura, La Notte and The World of Apu. The following year, there were two further screenings, one in April and one in October.

Films that featured for the first time in the second programme included Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and A Man Escaped. The movement began to subside after a few years, but it had served as an important influence upon emerging British filmmakers who would go on to make their own groundbreaking films:

  • Tony Richardson made his debut with Look Back in Anger (1959)
  •  Ken Loach made his first feature film Poor Cow (1967) 
  • Lindsay Anderson directed If… (1968)

Top Free Cinema Movement Films

The British Free Cinema movement is a documentary film movement that developed in England in the mid-1950s. The term referred to an unaffiliated, informal association of young filmmakers who shared an anti-Hollywood outlook and a determination to make films outside the mainstream commercial cinema.

Taken as a whole, Free Cinema films were politically left-wing, though they varied in tone and style. 

Some were personal films by first-time directors such as Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, while others were more ambitious works by experienced writers and directors such as Lindsay Anderson and John Schlesinger. 

They are often described as digestible “entertainments” that used contemporary settings and dealt with everyday problems rather than the grand themes favoured by the British Film Academy (BFI) and the state-sponsored National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

In publicising their aims and objectives, the group of filmmakers wrote in their manifesto: “We believe that the British cinema needs new ideas and new blood… We believe that our . . . freedom from commercial pressure allows us to experiment with new forms of cinema presentation. 

We believe that in this way we can help to bring about a vigorous renewal of ideas. We believe that these ideas are important for the future of our country.”

Free Cinema Movement Theory

The cinema of the time became a means to emphasise realism and social relevance, seeking to introduce a documentary style into filmmaking. The term “Free Cinema” was coined to distinguish these filmmakers from the studio-bound, artificial cinema that preceded them.

They were mostly British or American and their films were mostly made in the 1950s, when the post-war austerity period gave rise to a left-leaning political movement with artistic and intellectual sympathy for working-class culture. In addition, many of these filmmakers had gained their film experience in the wartime Information film units.

Some of these directors began to make films outside the studio system. Sometimes, they used amateur actors (as in Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus (1953)), while other times, they made use of non-actors who lived near where they were filming (as in Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964)).

Their films examined the lives of ordinary people on the margins of society, or not very far from its centre. They are notable for their naturalistic style, which is often combined with an authorial voice and personal point of view.

The movement has been retrospectively labelled as “Free Cinema”, although it is important to note that this term was never used. Cinema has grown to be a big part of our society. It’s more than just entertainment; it’s an important part of our culture. 

The importance of the Free Cinema Movement is the idea that cinema is meant to be free and open to anyone who wishes to view it.

It doesn’t cost any money to go and see a movie, such as going to your local movie theater. Only if you want something that isn’t free would you have to pay for it. This movement began in the 1960s and has been slowly growing ever since. 

Filmmakers began experimenting with making movies outside of the traditional production methods. They wanted to take control of their movies by making them without asking for permission or help from an existing studio.

These filmmakers were doing something new, which was using 16mm film instead of 35mm film for their productions. This is where the term “underground” came from, because these films were being made outside of the usual channels and using 16mm film that wasn’t produced for commercial use by established film studios or distributors.

A lot of these filmmakers were also influenced by French New Wave cinema, which was a movement that took place in France in the 1950s and ’60s.