Love Is All

The story behind documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s journey through 20th century love.

LOVE IS ALL film poster

“[It’s] a celebration of the changes in our lives in the UK from 1898 to 2014. The film really broadens the idea of love, by looking at our changes in attitudes to subjects such as multiculturalism and same sex relationships. The film explores love in a playful way though; you can’t have an angry film with a Richard Hawley soundtrack.”

Kim Longinotto, one of the UK’s foremost documentary filmmakers, is talking about her latest film, Love Is All, for which she trawled through hundreds of hours of archive footage to find the perfect clips.  It is a journey through the twentieth century, exploring love  and courtship on screen in a century of unprecedented social upheaval. From the very first kisses ever caught on film, through the disruption of war, to the birth of youth culture, gay liberation and free love, we follow courting couples flirting at tea dances, kissing in the back of the movies, shacking up and fighting for the right to love.

The idea for the film came from Heather Croall, Festival Director of the Sheffield Doc/Fest, who suggested it as part of a series of Music Archive Films, produced by Crossover with co-producers around the world.

The first Crossover Music-Archive film was From the Sea to the Land Beyond, a love letter to the British Coast made from the BFI archive, directed by Penny Woolcock with a soundtrack by British Sea Power. For Love Is All, Croall suggested coupling the film images with the music of  singer/songwriters & ex-Pulp guitarist, Richard Hawley,  a process Longinotto describes as “a sort of revelation”. Speaking at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, she said: “It’s really emotional and direct. It has a rather shocking intimacy to it … putting the music on the footage did something rather strange. You’re looking at footage from one hundred years ago and you feel like that is someone you could have known”.

Hawley says: “Love is All turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with the world of film, Ollie and Kim were really easy to work with, there were places in the film that needed determination and a real clarity of thought to see it through properly and they didn’t shy away from any of the issues which really impressed me, I just helped out with selecting a bit of music to go with the images really I think they did all the work to be honest.”

With footage provided by both the BFI and the Yorkshire Film Archive, Longinotto and her long term editor and co-producer, Ollie Huddleston, had just eight weeks to complete the film before it was first shown to packed audiences at an outdoor screening on the Chatsworth estate as part of the 2014 Sheffield Doc/Fest.  They chose to narrow it down to just British clips but then it became purely a matter of taste and what felt right to them.

“One hundred people in a room would have made 100 different archive films.” She says. “I thought, what do I love about the UK? What do I want to celebrate as well as love?”

A young Black girl is crowned May Queen in SPRINGTIME IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE ``(1944)

That thing was multiculturalism. One of Longinotto’s favourite clips in the film is Springtime in an English Village.  Made it 1944, it shows a young Black girl being crowned May queen, amid much cheering and celebration.  Longinotto is also a long-time champion of women’s rights and equality and, in Hindle Wakes (1927), we meet a heroine who is embarking on her first affair, saying that she is as much entitled to a “little fancy” as any man.

Having been a filmmaker for nearly 40 years, her films are very personal to her. She eschews narrative documentaries, preferring an observational style that allows her subject freedom.  She doesn’t believe in asking them to do something for the camera, and is fiercely protective of those she’s filming.  She feels as much their friend as a fimmaker. Her films include The Day I Will Never Forget (2002), giving voice to Kenyan women as they tell their experiences of female genital mutilation, and Sisters In Law (2005), set in Kumba in South West Cameroon, and follows Adultery, Rape and Abuse cases led by a Female Judge.

She says: “I film women who are survivors, rebels, who stand up against tradition.”

Longinotto is herself one of those women. With a troubled childhood, first living in fear of a father given to frequent rages, she was ostracised at the draconian girls boarding school she attended, after a teacher isolated her for turning up late for a school trip.  The school would become the subject of her first documentary, causing a public scandal when it was shown at the 1976 London Film Festival. Her former teacher called her a traitor to her class and the school was closed down.

filmmaker Kim Longinotto

Having nearly died whilst living on the streets as a penniless, homeless teenager, Longinotto she read English & European Literature at Essex University but survived by shoplifting, eventually ending up with two years probation. At 15, she met her first proper friend – one Nick Broomfield, who would also go on to become a world-renowned documentary filmmaker. He persuaded Longinotto to pursue a career in filmmaking, with her taking a foundation course in film at Bristol, before following him to the NFTS.  She told The Guardian in 2010:

“This was my last chance to be normal, really, and it saved my life.  For the first time, I was happy … Having lived with so many secrets, so much hate, anger, everything being bitter at home, I wanted to make films that would do the opposite.

Love Is All goes some way in realising that. The Guardian called it a “very real and very human depiction of what it is to be in love.

Love is All is in cinemas now.

BONUS: Here’s Kim Longinotto answering questions on documentary filmmaking in June 2013, as part of the BFI’s ‘Ask A Director’ series.

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