Crafts Council: Six Craft Documentaries to Inspire & Amaze

The team at the Crafts Council are very fond of documentaries – and crafts, of course – so much so that they've previously initiated the first-ever UK film festival dedicated to craft and moving image, Real to Reel. 'As we hole up for for the weeks ahead, it only seems apt to settle into our sofas with this rousing line-up of craft-focused film features. Immerse yourselves in new environments with these six recent documentaries, each exploring the experience of craft through a different lens.'

George Nakashima: Woodworker (2020)

Beginning with a lingering sequence spanning the furrowed trunk of a single tree in the woods,George Nakashima: Woodworker immediately trains our eyes to appreciate its character as the American designer and architect would have done. Overlaid with the voice of the craftsman himself – who died in 1990 – it sets an intimate tone for a personal, two-hour documentary produced by his nephew, John Nakashima, and daughter, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall. Using archival footage, audio recordings and photographs, it takes us on a journey of discovery across three continents as we follow Nakashima on a quest to find his ‘reason for being’. It’s also spliced with commentary from experts such as the woodworker Erich DeHaven, design historian Derek Ostergard, and professor of American decorative arts Ned Cooke, which sets his work in the context of design and craft theory.

Handmade in Africa (2020)

Handmade in Africa – a new BBC Four documentary series – offers an immersive glimpse into the craftsmanship of various African cultures. Over the three episodes you can watch inhabitants of an Ethiopian village collectively weaving a house from bamboo, Senegalese craftsman Seydou Kane making a kora (a West African lute), and a master beadmaker Jane Semanto creating a Maasai wedding necklace with rural communities in the Great Rift Valley. With no voiceovers or added music, it’s a pleasingly meditative ‘slow TV’ experience.

Craft in America (2020)

Non-profit body Craft in America has recently added two new episodes to its documentary series, both of which chime with the mood of the moment. Democracy looks at how making is woven into the defining principles of the USA, on the basis that now, ‘perhaps more than ever, it is critical that we hear the voices of the artists, art advocates and cultural workers who define and unite our nation through their work’. A central focus is on the importance of government and institutions to protect the cultural heritage of marginalised groups. Storytellers features makers who tell personal stories, including George Rodriguez, who creates ceramic sculptures influenced by global cultures and his Chicano heritage, and glass artist Christina Bothwell, who explores her interest in birth, death and renewal through her unusual process.

Takumi: A 60,000 Hour Story on the Survival of Human Craft (2019)

No short cuts. That’s the bottom line in this documentary sponsored by the luxury Japanese automotive company Lexus. The title suggests the philosophy of takumi clearly – whereby some craftspeople in Japan believe it takes 60,000 hours of practise to achieve true mastery – as does the presenter Neil MacGregor, the ex-director of both the National Gallery and British Museum in London, and now founding director of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. The 54-minute feature follows four Japanese artisans who are dedicating their lives to their crafts: a double Michelin-starred chef, a traditional paper-cutting artist, an automotive master craftsman, and a carpenter working for one of the world’s oldest construction firms. The film has been directed by Clay Jeter, the Emmy-nominated director of the TV series Chef’s Table, who likes to demonstrate his own craft with beautiful close-ups of time-worn hands working in a slow and measured way.

Richard Batterham: Master Potter (2017)

There is something uplifting in watching Richard Batterham – one of the last of Bernard Leach’s practicing apprentices – at work. He is uncompromisingly in charge of his production, carrying out every task with a kind of steady, unremitting intent. Famously reticent to speak publicly of his work, Richard Batterham: Master Potter is an irresistible opportunity to peer inside his workshop, and it’s everything you expect: no blaring radio, no sign, in fact, of electronics of any kind. The film’s director, Alex J Wright, does not show Batterham working towards anything in particular, but rather just working, as he has done in the same spot for almost six decades. The 2017 documentary, newly available to watch on the Joanna Bird Foundation’s Youtube channel, also features Sir David Attenborough and Nigel Slater, both of whom collect the potter’s work.

Make! Craft Britain (2018)

Make! Craft Britain explores the breadth of crafting across the UK, as presenter Martha Kearney embarks on a quest to understand the power of craft in contemporary society in this spirit-lifting celebration of all things handmade. The first episode in the two-part series follows rookie crafters as they master the art of hooky rugmaking and traditional letterpress printing. The second instalment sees novice crafters discover the ancient arts of silver jewellery-making and cross-stitch, but with a distinctly 21st century twist. Bitten by the crafting bug yet? There’s a wealth of videos on BBC Four to help you get even more crafty.

Photo below shows: George Nakashima, Conoid Studio, Pennsylvania

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