The Films of the Amber Collective (1968 to the present): A Critical History

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences


The proposed research project represents the first comprehensive, critical assessment of the cinematic work of the Amber collective, an independent film group that has been based in the North East of England since the late 1960s. This project will locate their films within the context of British cinema, more specifically the realist tradition and the independent workshop movement, and will also pay attention to their national and international reception.

Amber was founded in 1968 by a group of London-based students, who sought to document the working-class communities of Tyneside. They were drawn in particular to Newcastle, a city that was characterised by a rich industrial past but also rapid economic and social decline. Amber's arrival coincided with the rise of the regional 'workshop' movement, of which the collective would become a key player. But whilst other independent groups tend to remain only as footnotes in traditional histories of British film-making, Amber remains very much part of the cultural landscape. Over the last forty or so years they have been producing a body of highly regarded, if relatively unknown work, encompassing documentary portraits, community projects, feature films and photographic exhibitions.

Such is the importance of Amber, it seems somewhat surprising that their work has been sidelined in almost all histories of British cinema and television. In order to redress this imbalance, this study will interrogate and contextualise their diverse work. A critical history of Amber to be published as a monograph thus seeks to situate their films within national and international filmmaking traditions and to delineate continuity and change within their oeuvre. Special attention will be paid to Amber's alternative film-making practices, the reception of their films locally, nationally and internationally, their relationship with television and new digital media and their own critical assessment of their work.

We will also be editing a special edition of the peer-reviewed journal Visual Culture in Britain on the subject of Amber and independent film culture. The intention is to help generate a body of original, inter-disciplinary research that broadens an understanding of Amber's work. We will consider other appropriate means for the dissemination of our research, such as the contribution of material to online database (for example Screenonline and the British Universities Newsreel Database). We will also target a popular newspaper/ journal with a broad readership such as Sight and Sound with an article relating to the project.

Planned Impact

Not required.


10 25 50
Description Presentation at Conference on Channel 4 and British film culture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I introduced a discussion of Amber at this conference at the British Film Institute (London) in November 2012, which generated questions.

The event, and my part in it, helped to raise the profile of Amber among the audience, who were a mixture of academics, those working in the film and television industry (e.g. film-makers, producers), and other interested parties. I have received some emails about my project from those who were present.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012