Adam Curtis

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Adam Curtis
Adam curtis.jpg
Curtis at the 2005 San Francisco Film Festival.
Born Kevin Adam Curtis
(1955-05-26) 26 May 1955 (age 60)
Dartford, Kent, England
Occupation Documentary filmmaker

Kevin Adam Curtis (born 26 May 1955), better known as Adam Curtis, is an English documentary filmmaker. Curtis says that his favourite theme is "power and how it works in society", and his works explore areas of sociology, philosophy and political history.[1] He describes his work as journalism that happens to be expounded upon through the medium of film. His films have won three BAFTAs. He has been closely associated with the BBC throughout his career.

Early life[edit]

Curtis was born in Dartford, Kent.[2] His father was Martin Curtis (10 August 1917 – January 2002), a cinematographer from Sevenoaks who worked with Humphrey Jennings.[1] His family had a left wing background.[3] Curtis attended the Sevenoaks School on a county scholarship.[4] He completed a Bachelor of Arts in human sciences at Mansfield College, Oxford, which included courses in genetics, evolutionary biology, psychology, politics, anthropology and statistics. He started a PhD, during which he tutored in politics, but he became disillusioned with academia.[3]


The style of Curtis' "trademark" titles.

Early career[edit]

Curtis applied to the BBC and was hired to make a film for one of its training courses, comparing designer clothes in music videos to the design of weapons. He subsequently obtained a post on That's Life!, a programme that often placed serious and humorous content in close juxtaposition.


Of his general political outlook Curtis has said:


Curtis cites the USA Trilogy, a series of three novels by John Dos Passos that he first read when he was 13, as the greatest influence on his filmmaking:[1]

Other influences include Robert Rauschenberg,[1] Émile Zola[1] and Max Weber.[5]

Curtis makes extensive use of archive footage in his documentaries. He has acknowledged the influence of recordings made by Erik Durschmied and is "constantly using his stuff in my films".[6] According to a profile of Curtis by Tim Adams, published in Observer,

Adams adds: "if there has been a theme in Curtis's work since, it has been to look at how different elites have tried to impose an ideology on their times, and the tragicomic consequences of those attempts".[7]

Curtis received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2005.[8] In 2006 he was given the Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television at the British Academy Television Awards. In 2009 Sheffield Doc/Fest awarded Curtis the inaugural Sheffield Inspiration Award for his inspiration to other documentary-makers and to audiences.


Since 2004 Curtis has hosted a blog on the BBC website. He has tentative plans to expand the offering.[1]


Year Title Subject Parts Channel/Venue Awards
1983 Just Another Day: Walton on the Naze Various longstanding British institutions.
1983 The Tuesday Documentary: Trumpets and Typewriters The history of war correspondents.
1984 Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster.[9] The system-built housing of the 1960s.
1984 Italians: Mayor of Montemilone The politics of a small Italian town and its Communist Mayor, Dino Labriola. 1
1984 The Cost of Treachery The Albanian Subversion, in which the CIA and MI6 attempted to overthrow the Albanian government and to weaken the Soviet Union in 1949, and the role of Kim Philby.
1987 40 Minutes: Bombay Hotel The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai, contrasted with the poverty of the slums of the city.
1988 An Ocean Apart, Episode One: "Hats Off to Mr Wilson" The process by which the United States became involved in the First World War.
1989 40 Minutes: The Kingdom of Fun Documentary about the Metro Centre in Gateshead, developed by the entrepreneur John Hall. The programme compares John Hall's plans to regenerate the Northeast of England with those of T. Dan Smith.
1989 Inside Story: The Road To Terror How the Iranian Revolution turned from idealism to terror. Draws parallels with the French Revolution two hundred years earlier.
1992 Pandora's Box The dangers of technocratic and political rationality. 6 BAFTA: Best Factual Series [1][dead link]
1995 The Living Dead The ways in which history and memory (both national and individual) have been used by politicians and others. 3
1996 25 Million Pounds Nick Leeson and the collapse of Barings Bank. San Francisco International Film Festival, 1998: Best Science and Nature Documentary
1997 Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh The story, dating back to the 1950s, of the search for a cure to cancer and the impact of Henrietta Lacks, the "woman who will never die" because her cells have never stopped reproducing. Golden Gate Award, 1997[10]
1999 The Mayfair Set How buccaneer capitalists were allowed to shape the climate of the Thatcher years, focusing on the rise of Colonel David Stirling, Jim Slater, James Goldsmith and Tiny Rowland, all members of The Clermont Club in the 1960s. 4 BAFTA, 2000: Best Factual Series or Strand[11]
2002 The Century of the Self How Freud's theories concerning the unconscious led to the development of public relations by his relative Edward Bernays; the use of desire over need; and self-actualisation as a means of achieving economic growth and the political control of populations. 4 BBC Four, art house cinemas in the US Broadcast Award: Best Documentary Series; Longman/History Today Awards: Historical Film of the Year; Entertainment Weekly, 2005: fourth best movie
2004 The Power of Nightmares Suggested a parallel between the rise of Islamism in the Arab world and neoconservatism in the United States, in that both, according to Curtis, needed to inflate a myth of a dangerous enemy to draw people to support them. 3 BBC Two BAFTA, 2004: Best Factual Series[12]
2007 The Trap – What Happened to our Dream of Freedom The modern concept of freedom. Archived December 23, 2007 at the Wayback Machine 3 BBC Two
2007 Television news reporters. 1 Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, third episode of the fourth series
2009 The rise of "Oh Dear"-ism. 1 Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, third episode of the first series
2009 It Felt Like a Kiss[13] Mixed media.[14] Broadcast 2 July. 1 Manchester International Festival
2010 Paranoia and moral panics. 1 Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, fourth episode of the second series
2011 All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace The computer as a model of the world around us (the title is taken from a poem by Richard Brautigan). 3 BBC Two[15][16]
2011 Every Day is Like Sunday The rise and fall of the newspaper tycoon Cecil King, and the changing relationship between the public, politics and the media. 1 The Medium and the Message, his personal blog. This is not an officially released documentary but "a rough cut".[17]
2013 Everything is Going According to Plan[18] (Massive Attack V Adam Curtis) Collaboration with Massive Attack, mixed media. Themed around technocrats and global corporations establishing an ultraconservative norm, with the internet providing a "fake, enchanting world, which has become a kind of prison".[19] 1 Performed as part of the Manchester International Festival
2014 "Oh dear"-ism II - Non-Linear War 1 Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe, 30 December 2014
2015 Bitter Lake[20][21] How Western politicians' simplistic "good" vs. "evil" narratives failed the complexities of the post-war era, using several experiences in Afghanistan and beyond as example. 1 BBC iPlayer-only, 137 mins (2h 16m 44s), 25 January 2015


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Interview: Adam Curtis by Chris Darke on 15 September 2011, Film Society of Lincoln Center, published 17 July. 2012
  2. ^ Search birth records 1837–2006 | Fully indexed birth records |
  3. ^ a b In Conversation with Adam Curtis, Part I | e-flux
  4. ^ The Telegraph Interview
  5. ^ "Hans Ulrich Obrist in Conversation with Adam Curtis". e-flux. Retrieved 8 February 2013. 
  6. ^ BBC – Adam Curtis Blog: GOODIES AND BADDIES
  7. ^ a b Adams, Tim (24 October 2004). "The Exorcist". London: The Observer. Retrieved 17 February 2010. 
  8. ^ Adam Curtis, San Francisco International Film Festival
  9. ^ "The Great British Housing Disaster (1984)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  10. ^ "San Francisco Film Society". Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  11. ^ "BAFTA: Winners 2000". Archived from the original on 19 October 2004. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  12. ^ "Past Winners and Nominees (2004)". BAFTA. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  13. ^ "Adam Curtis". BBC. Archived from the original on 24 June 2009. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  14. ^ Appleyard, Bryan (28 June 2009). "Adam Curtis: TV's great documentary maker". The Times (London). Retrieved 6 July 2009. 
  15. ^ "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace – Adam Curtis blog". BBC. 10 May 2011. 
  16. ^ "TV review: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace". The Guardian"date=23 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "Every Day is like Sunday". BBC. Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  18. ^ Adams, Tim (7 July 2013). "Massive Attack v Adam Curtis – review". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  19. ^ Dave Simpson (5 July 2013). "Massive Attack v Adam Curtis – review". The Guardian (London). 
  20. ^ "Adam Curtis: 'I try to make the complexity and chaos intelligible'". The Guardian. 24 January 2015. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "Adam Curtis - Bitter Lake". BBC iPlayer. BBC. 25 January 2015. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 

External links[edit]