The Brighton School was a group of documentary filmmakers, who were active in the early 20th century, and were united by their concern for social justice and their belief that the film medium could be a powerful force for social change.

While other documentary filmmakers of the time, such as Dziga Vertov, were known for their use of sophisticated editing techniques and innovative sound design, the Brighton School is best known for their simple, direct style, characterized by long shots with little or no camera movement and by a focus on depicting real people engaging in everyday activities.

Let’s take a look.

Brighton School Film Movement

What Is the Brighton School Film Movement?

The Brighton School is a term used by some film historians to describe a loose grouping of early British filmmakers working in the seaside town of Brighton in the early decades of the 20th century.

The term “Brighton School” was first used by film historian John Barnes, who noted that amateur filmmakers in the town were making films, often on location with non-professional actors, that were far more adventurous and innovative than their counterparts in other parts of Britain.

Brighton School films are characterized by the use of location shooting on the streets and beaches of Brighton (giving them a documentary quality), a preference for non-professional performers, and an emphasis on naturalism over melodramatic acting styles.

h2>What Is The Brighton School Film Movement?

A group of filmmakers in Brighton, England, led by George Albert Smith, created short films during the early 20th century that are considered some of the earliest examples of narrative fiction.

Although little is known about their process, many of these films are preserved in a collection at the British Film Institute called “The George Albert Smith Collection.”

In 1897, filmmaker George Albert Smith (1864-1959) partnered with his brother-in-law James Williamson to form a production company called G.A. Smith and Williamson.

They used the Lumière Cinematograph to film “Grandma’s Reading Glass,” a one-minute comedy about a boy who steals his grandmother’s spectacles to watch a cricket game outside. It was shown as part of a travelling exhibition called “The Animated Photographs.”

The Brighton School filmmakers shot their footage on location and created narratives through staging, editing and employing other cinematic techniques at the time.

While their work influenced future generations, it wasn’t until the 1960s that scholars began to rediscover their contributions.

History Of The Brighton School Film Movement

The Brighton School of Film-making is a term which refers to the works of British filmmakers based in the seaside resort of Brighton, East Sussex, England. The films they made were typically short films, often with fantastical elements rather than the social realism that was dominant in British cinema at the time.

The school had its roots in the arrival of filmmaker Don Levy at the University of Sussex’s Film Department in 1969, but it was with the arrival of Martin Scorsese as a visiting professor in 1973 that it began to take shape. Scorsese encouraged his students John Maybury, Paul Sarossy and Roger Pratt to collaborate on film projects together.

They made a series of short films which became known collectively as “The Brighton Cycle”. In 1977, these four directors were joined by David Leland, who directed the short film “Fashion Show”.

This led to Leland being offered a job by Giorgio Armani to run their film department. He was replaced by Alan White, who continued to work with Levy, Maybury and Sarossy until 1980 when he left to work on feature films.

In addition to these five directors, there were others who contributed to this movement such as Adrian Shergold, James O’Brien and Phillip Saville.


Essential Filmmakers Of The Brighton School Film Movement

In the late 1990s, a small group of filmmakers based in the coastal town of Brighton, England began producing films that were considered at the time to be extremely avant-garde. 

The films were largely shot on digital video but featured a traditional cinematic look thanks to a combination of exceptional cinematography, elaborate visual effects work and an innovative editing style.

What’s more, many of the films were built around narratives that were vague and open to interpretation, which helped to give them a timeless quality. 

Titled “The Brighton School” by some film critics, these films have since been recognized as iconic works in their own right.

In fact, they’ve become cult hits among cinephiles worldwide and are now considered milestones of experimental cinema. Most people who have seen them agree that what made these films so special was the collaboration between their directors.

They were all part of a tight-knit group who worked closely together, shared resources and supported each other through thick and thin. Most importantly, they encouraged each other to explore new ideas without fear of failure.

Essential Films Of The Brighton School Film Movement

Brighton is the capital of gay Britain. It’s also the home of a major new film movement, one that has been quietly gathering pace since the 90s and is now making waves internationally.

This year’s British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) saw the debut of a new award, Best British Newcomer, which went to a young actor from Brighton named Luke Treadaway (he plays one of the leads in last year’s hit film Eden Lake). 

The award was presented by Nick Moran, star of Brighton-set Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, who recently told me how impressed he was by Treadaway’s performance.

The reason for the BIFA recognition? The films of the Brighton School. You’ve never heard of it, but you’ve probably seen its films.

They’re those low-budget features that get good reviews but struggle to get into our cinemas because they’re too artsy or too violent or too full of swearing or bad language or all three. But once you see them, you can’t forget them — and lots of people are talking about them this year.


Importance Of The Brighton School Film Movement

There are many significant film movements that have taken place in the history of cinema. One of the most important, and often overlooked, is the Brighton School Film Movement (BSFM).

The BSFM was a collection of filmmakers brought together by their shared desire to create more realistic and socially conscious films. These filmmakers believed that the BFI was too concerned with producing commercial entertainment and too dismissive of artistic values.

They felt that the way to bring about change was to break down social stereotypes and depict real life. This can be seen in many of their films, particularly in Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

To see how this movement came about and how they pushed the boundaries within British Cinema, we need to look back at their roots. The first notable group within the BSFM were Documentary Filmmakers such as John Grierson and Alberto Cavalcanti.

These men wanted to use cinema as an educational tool, but they quickly developed a reputation for high production value and artistic quality. This reputation soon spread when Alfred Hitchcock arrived in London from Hollywood.

He had been encouraged by his producer to make a documentary about London. Instead, he made a short filmcalled “The Southbank Footbridge”.

Brighton School Film Movement Theory

The Brighton School Film Movement Theory describes the way in which a series of shots follow each other and the effect that can be achieved by doing so. This theory is particularly popular with documentary filmmakers but can be used in all genres, including fiction.


To understand this theory, it is first necessary to know about editing and cuts. Editing is the process of joining together shots to make a film, and it is done primarily for two reasons: narrative and rhythm.

Narrative editing joins together shots that are contiguous, or that follow each other in time and space. Rhythm editing uses juxtaposition to create an emotional response in the audience by cutting abruptly between two unrelated shots.

Types of cuts

There are three different types of cut depending on what happens between the shots: 

  1. Continuity cut – The action continues from one shot into another, as in a conversation between two people.
  2. Jump cut – A cut made without regard for how the shots relate to each other, such as jumping from one speaker to another in a conversation.
  3. Implied cut – When we see a sudden change from one shot to another (such as when a car crashes into a barrier), we assume that an edit has been made where we cannot see it.

The End Of The Brighton School Film Movement

The hard-edged, gritty and unsentimental style of independent filmmaking that flourished in Brighton in the late 1970s is disappearing as the city’s reputation as a powerhouse of low-budget movie making fades into history. 

The place once dubbed “Hollywood on Sea” is no longer the center of a thriving film community, but it was at its peak in the late 1970s when a local cinema club was transformed into Britain’s most innovative film school.

At the heart of this scene was the now legendary Screen Unit, founded by Will Berry and others in 1976. 

The idea was to give young people from modest backgrounds an opportunity to develop their own film skills, and within two years, it had become so successful that a purpose-built complex was built on an old car park on the seafront in Brighton.

But now, after being closed for two years for refurbishment, Screen Unit is about to reopen under new management with a different agenda – and few people now work in the industry who were involved with it during its heyday. “I think you could say that end-of-an-era feeling is certainly true,” said John Walsh, who worked at Screen Unit from 1977 until 1985.

Brighton School Film Movement – Wrapping Up

The films screened at the Brighton School Film Movement (BSFM) are strange and wonderful, as experimental and surrealist as they are thought-provoking and illuminating. They include elements of documentary and fiction, poetry and prose, all often told through monologues or semi-narratives with a twist.

As I watched them on screen in the basement of the Brighton Dome last week, I couldn’t help but be transported to my own student days back at UCLan, when my friends and I were always trying to make our own films – whether that was writing scripts, practicing music for a soundtrack or just getting together what little funds we had to shoot something. 

In addition tos the three films shown during the festival, there were also two Q&A sessions with visiting filmmakers: James Eaves, who is currently working on a project about his mentor Tony Garnett and Alice Giles-Harris who appears in her older sister’s film “Do Not Go Gentle”.

I’d never heard of either of them before seeing their films but I have now found some new names to add to my “watch out for” list! The festival opened with “My Personal Cinematic Universe”, a film by James Eaves. It is an awkward trip into the mind.