Mark Kidel

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Mark Kidel
Born Mark Kidel
(1947-07-06) 6 July 1947 (age 69)
London, England
Nationality British
Education BA
Alma mater Oxford University (UK)
Occupation documentary filmmaker, writer
Notable work Rod the Mod Has Come of Age, Boy Next Door, Naked and Famous, Balthus the Painter, Ravi Shankar, Alfred Brendel: Man and Mask

Mark Kidel (born 6 July 1947) is a documentary filmmaker and writer who lives in Bristol, England.
His award-winning films include portraits of John Adams (composer), Elvis Costello, Boy George, Ravi Shankar, Rod Stewart, Bill Viola, Iannis Xenakis, pianists Alfred Brendel and Leon Fleisher, Derek Jarman, Balthus, Tricky, Robert Wyatt and American theatre and opera director Peter Sellars.

A pioneer of the "rockumentary",[1] Kidel was also the first rock critic of the New Statesman and contributed pieces on rock, soul, and world music, to The Observer, The Sunday Times, and The Guardian.

Early life[edit]

Kidel grew up in Paris and Vienna[2] and attended the Lycée français de Vienne and Bedales School in England. In 1965, he won a scholarship to the University of Oxford where he studied for a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at New College, graduating in 1968, and edited Isis, the renowned student weekly. During his tenure, Kidel interviewed Jimi Hendrix on his first UK tour with Emma Rothschild. Kidel subsequently earned a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1969 with an MA in International Relations.

Early film and television career[edit]

In 1970 Kidel got a job at the BBC in London as a researcher in the General Features department. There he made his first 10-minute film (about cheap weekend holidays to Majorca), and in 1972 joined the production team on the newly formed BBC2 Saturday night program Full House later known as Second House and The Lively Arts. There he made longer film portraits of a variety of British artists and craftsmen.

He followed with the feature-length The Man They Couldn't Hang: Babbacombe Lee for the BBC with the folk-rock group Fairport Convention.

In 1975 Kidel made a cinéma vérité film about the Kursaal Flyers as they toured Britain in a Ford Transit van called So You Wanna Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star? Recognized as a pioneering rock doc[3] (listed in Time Out's 50 Best Music Films, for example)[1] this now classic inspired British comedians' group the Comic Strip's Bad News Tour which some believe in turn inspired Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap.

Kidel's next film, another classic rock doc, Rod the Mod Has Come of Age is a ruthless account of the rock promotion circus in full action.

In early 1976, Kidel was in charge of "Arena: Art and Design," one of the precursors of the still running Arena series.During his six-month editorship, "Arena" featured an entire program devoted to video art, the then-relatively new art movement.

Dartington Hall and work with James Hillman[edit]

Frustrated by what he saw as television's increasing superficiality and the professional pressure to make formulaic films to please as wide an audience as possible, Kidel left the industry altogether in 1976 to work in communications and PR for the Dartington Hall Trust in Devon for the next decade. Dorothy Whitney Elmhirst and her husband Leonard's unique nonprofit foundation was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore and served as an experiment in rural reconstruction which included projects in education, agriculture, rural industry and the arts. Kidel also taught in the music department at Dartington College of the Arts for three years.

Kidel was director of the "New Themes for Education" conference held at Dartington Hall for the years from 1984 to 1986. During this time, the conference explored the experience of illness and brought together people from the worlds of medicine, psychology and the arts. The 1985 conference led to Kidel's co-editing with Susan Rowe-Leete (later his wife) The Meaning of Illness (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986).[4]

Kidel invited James Hillman to Dartington Hall in 1984 to run a weekend seminar on animals in myths, dreams and fairy tales. Following this they collaborated, with Susan Rowe-Leete, on seven films based on Hillman's ideas:

-The Heart Has Reasons: a film about the way in which the heart is imagined by scientists and poets
-Kind of Blue: an essay in defence of melancholia
-The Architecture of the Imagination: a series of five ground-breaking films, 30-minutes each, about architecture and symbolism, with ones about the doorway, the staircase, the window, the tower and the bridge.[5] The films included many examples drawn from the history of art and classic cinema.

Music criticism[edit]

From 1972 to 1976, Kidel wrote music reviews for Time Out's music section.

During his time in Devon and onwards, Kidel also focused more on writing about contemporary music, specifically rock, folk, soul, R&B, blues, and world music, contributing pieces to The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and the New Review.[6] He was the founding rock columnist for the New Statesman in 1976 through 1980 and alternated every other week with John Peel on a regular column in The Listener.


Kidel and Peter Gabriel, with whom he had become friends after interviewing him for The Observer, discovered they were both interested in exploring music from other cultures. This led to a collaboration on the creation of a world music and rock festival that eventually became WOMAD. Kidel fed ideas which came from looking at successful world music festivals in France, the yearly event in Rennes, run by Chérif Khaznadar and Françoise Gründ.[7] Kidel was on the first board of directors but resigned owing to other commitments. A group that included Jonathan Arthur, Thomas Brooman, Martin Elbourne, Bob Hooton, and Steve Pritchard eventually brought the festival to fruition in 1982.

Return to television[edit]

In 1987, Kidel returned to television: That year, he worked as joint commissioning editor-in-chief for the inaugural broadcast of the French cultural channel La Sept – later known as ARTE France. He also worked as a consultant to Channel 4, BBC Wales, and United Television, a large UK-based independent producer of TV programmes, through 2004.

Kidel also produced and directed many films from 1987 until the present, working in collaboration with a number of production companies, in the UK – Dibb Directions, Third Eye and Antelope Films – in France with Les Films d’ici, and Agat Films/Ex Nihilo and also a regular guest producer with the BBC’s Music and Arts Department.

One notable project involved collaborating with British producer and director Mike Dibb and the world-renowned US ethno-musicologist Alan Lomax – creating two films for Channel 4 out of 500 or so hours of material he had shot in the United States over a 10-year period: American Patchwork and Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old.[8]

Many of Kidel's most successful films in the field of world music and cultures have been the result of collaborations with distinguished specialists: Le Paris Black and Pygmies in Paris with French music writer (and ex-editor of Jazz Magazine) Gérald Arnaud,[9] Under African Skies: Mali and Bamako Beat with ethnomusicologist and BBC broadcaster Lucy Durán ,[10] and New York:, The Secret African City with the great Africanist at Yale University, Robert Farris Thompson.

A more intimate way of working[edit]

A major shift occurred in Kidel's work starting in 1997: he started shooting his own films. The intimacy achieved in "Naked and Famous", his film about Tricky, owed a great deal to this new low-impact approach. Subsequently Kidel shot many of his own films or the parts of them using this approach.

Current work[edit]

Kidel founded Calliope Media in 2003. He also continues to work as a freelance director, mainly in the UK and France. He has just finished (January 2016) The Juilliard Experiment, a feature-length film about the French artist Fabienne Verdier's collaborations with musicians in New York. Current projects include a film about Cary Grant, with Yuzu Productions in Paris, a feature-length film about Sly and the Family Stone. He is also developing a film about the Malian photographer Seydou Keïta, "Schubert’s Greatest Hits”, with the English tenor Mark Padmore, and a feature-length film with the conductor Teodor Currentzis. He is a regular contributor on music, visual arts, and theatre for The Arts Desk,[11] an online review of the arts founded in September 2009 by a group of freelance arts writers.

Selected awards[edit]

  • Grierson Award for the Best History Documentary, 2007, for Hungary 1956: Our Revolution
  • FIPA D'Argent Special Prize, Biarritz, 2002, for Ravi Shankar: Between Two Worlds[12]
  • Grand Prix, Classiques en Images festival, Paris, 2002, for Leon Fleisher: Lessons of a Master
  • Royal Television Society Award, 1995, for Kind of Blue
  • Liliane Stewart Prize for Design Arts, Festival International du Film Sur L'art, Montreal, 2011, for "Colouring Light: Brian Clarke – An Artist Apart"

Personal life[edit]

Kidel has been married twice. His first marriage was to Caroline Wyndham, a healer, who had a daughter whom Kidel adopted, Sarah. The couple subsequently had Leo and Chloe. Kidel married Susan Rowe-Leete, a psychotherapist, in 1989, with whom he has collaborated on a number of works. They have two children, Sam and Anna.


75 min and over[edit]

Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance, 2013, 90 min[13]
Set the Piano Stool on Fire, 2010, 77 min[14][15]
Journey With Peter Sellars, 2007, 90 min[16] – Telluride Film Festival selection, 2007; San Francisco International Film Festival selection, 2008;
Golden Prague nomination, 2008
Soweto Strings, 2007,[15][17] 89 min – Best Arts Documentary nomination, Grierson Awards, 2007
Soweto Strings In Performance, 2007[15] – Selection FIPA, Biarritz ; DokuArts, Amsterdam, both 2008
Paris Brothel, 2003, 75 min[15]
Glastonbury, 2002, 2 hrs[18]
Ravi Shankar: Between Two Worlds, 2001, 90 min[19] – Telluride Film Festival selection, 2001; FIPA D'Argent Special Prize; Grand Prix du Documentaire, UNESCO Festival International du Film d’Art; World Culture Forum Vienna TV Award; Newport International Film Festival; San Francisco International Film Festival, all 2002
Alfred Brendel: Man and Mask, 2000, 75 min[19]
Les Hopitaux Meurent Aussi (A Hospital Remembers), 2000, 77 min[19][20] – Selection Hot Docs, Toronto
Rod the Mod Has Come Of Age (Rod Stewart), 1976, 90 min[2]
So You Wanna Be A Rock’n’Roll Star (The Kursaal Flyers), 1975, 90 min[2]
The Man They Couldn’t Hang: Babbacombe Lee, 1974, 90 min

60 min[edit]

Martin Amis's England, 2014[19][21]
Road Movie: A Portrait of John Adams, 2013[19][22] Selection at FIFA (Montreal), 2013[23] and Telluride Film Festival, 2013[24]
Fabienne Verdier: Painting the Moment, 2013[19][25]
Colouring Light: Brian Clarke – An Artist Apart, 2011[26][27]
Saved By Music: The Wallfisch Family, 2010[15]
Leon Fleisher: A Fleur De Touches (Two Hands), 2007[20]
Hungary 1956: Our Revolution, 2006[15] – Grierson Award for Best History Documentary; Historical Film of the Year Award, History Today Awards, both 2007
Mario Lanza: Singing to the Gods, 2005[15]
Susheela Raman: Indian Journey, 2005[19]
Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait, 2005[15]
Imber: England’s Lost Village, 2004[19]
Bill Viola: The Eye of the Heart, 2003[15] – Selection FIFA, Montreal, 2004
Free Will and Testament: The Robert Wyatt Story, 2002[19]
Ravi Shankar In Concert, 2002[19]
Leon Fleisher: Lessons Of a Master, 2001[19][20] – Classiques en Images festival Grand Prix, 2002; Grand Prix Musique, UNESCO Festival International du Film d’Art, 2002
Naked and Famous: Tricky, 1997[19]
Wild Ballerina: Karole Armitage, 1997[19][20]
Balthus the Painter, 1996[19] – Biennale Internationale du Film sur l’Art, Paris, official selection, 1996; FIFA, Montreal, 1997
Norman Foster, 1995[19]
Edgard Varèse, 1995[19][20] – Selection FIFA, Montreal, 1997
Boy Next Door (Boy George), 1994[19] – Selection FIFA, Montreal, 1995
Derek Jarman: A Portrait, 1991[19] – Selection FIFA, Montreal, 1992
Something Rich and Strange: The Life and Work Of Iannis Xenakis, 1991[19]
Le Paris Black, 1990[19] – Selection Suoni dal Mondo, Firenze, 1998
Under African Skies: Algeria, 1989
Under African Skies: Mali, 1989[19] – Selection Suoni dal Mondo, Firenze, 1998
Under African Skies: Rai, 1989[19] – Selection Suoni dal Mondo, Firenze, 1998
New York: The Secret African City, 1989[19]
Songs and Dreams Of the Noble Old, 1988
American Patchwork, 1988

50 and 52 min[edit]

The Island of 1000 Violins, 2015, 52 min[19]
Brendel In Performance, 2000, 50 min[19]
Tricky Live, 1997, 50 min[19]
Just Dancing Around: Richard Alston, 1996, 52 min[19]
Dreamtown: An Anatomy of Blackpool, 1995, 50 min[19] – Golden Gate Awards Certificate of Merit, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1996
Kind Of Blue: An Essay On Melancholia and Depression, 1994, 52 min[19] – Telluride Film Festival selection, 1993
The Heart Has Reasons, 1993, 52 min[19]
Pygmies In Paris, 1992, 45 min[20]
Bamako Beat: Music From Mali, 1991, 50 min[19]
Sounds Off the Beaten Track: WOMAD, 1987, 52 min

30 min and less[edit]

Henri Oguike: Second Frame, 2006, 26 min[20]
Karole Armitage: Rave, 2003, 26 min[20]
The Architecture of the Imagination, 1994:[2] The Door, The Staircase, The Window, The Bridge, and The Tower (5 films, 30 min each)


A Maybe Day in Kazakhstan, co-directed with Tony Harrison – Telluride Film Festival selection, 1994
Alfred Brendel on Music: Three Lectures, 2011, 225 min[28]


Dartington (Webb & Bower, Exeter, 1983)
Learning By Doing (Green Books, Hartland)

Co-authored with Susan Rowe-Leete[edit]

The Meaning of Illness (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986)[4]
The photo essay "Mapping the Body" in Zone 3: Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part 1, ed. by Michel Feher (Zone Books, 1989)[29]


  1. ^ a b 50 Greatest Music Films Ever. London: TimeOut. 2 October 2007. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Mark Kidel". Calliope Media UK. 
  3. ^ The Kursaal Flyers. Steven Pegrum. 
  4. ^ a b The Meaning of Illness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1986. 
  5. ^ Mark Kidel (21 December 2011). James Hillman obituary. London: The Guardian. 
  6. ^ Hamilton, Ian. Ian Hamilton website Retrieved 2016-02-08.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Theatre de l’Alliance Francaise. Paris: Maison des Cultures du Monde. 
  8. ^ A slightly recut version of the Channel Four documentary can be seen at,127.
  9. ^ Biographie. Africultures. 
  10. ^ Dr. Lucy Durán. School of Oriental and African Studies. 
  11. ^ Mark Kidel (14 October 2011). Colouring Light: Brian Clarke – An Artist Apart. London: The Arts Desk Ltd. 
  12. ^ Ravi Shankar: Between Two Worlds. Paris: AGAT Films & Cie / Ex Nihilo. 
  13. ^ Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance. London: BBC Four. 
  14. ^ 'I had to make time for him'. London: The Guardian. 2 June 2011. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Calliope Media Productions. Bristol: Calliope Media. 
  16. ^ Journey With Peter Sellars. Paris: AGAT Films & Cie / Ex Nihilo. 
  17. ^ Mark Kidel on Soweto String Ensemble. Videojuicer. Archived from the original on 9 December 2011. 
  18. ^ Glastonbury. Paris: AGAT Films & Cie / Ex Nihilo. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Mark Kidel Films. Bristol: Calliope Media. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h les films d'ici website. Paris: Les Films D'ici. 
  21. ^ Preview: Martin Amis's England. London: The Arts Desk. 19 March 2014. 
  22. ^ New John Adams Documentary Film by Mark Kidel to Premiere on BBC4 TV. New York City: Nonesuch. 6 March 2013. 
  23. ^ Opening night and awards ceremony Films of the 31st edition - The Fatwa - Salman's story and road movie, a portrait of John Adams. Montreal: Art FIFA. 26 February 2013. 
  24. ^ 40th Anniversary Program Line-up. Telluride: Telluride Film Festival. 29 August 2013. Archived from the original on 2 December 2014. 
  25. ^ Fabienne Verdier - Painting the Moment. Paris: Les Films d'Ici. 
  26. ^ Magic of Glass – Meet Brian Clarke, Britain’s star of stained glass with a papal blessing. London: RadioTimes (via Brian Clarke website). 15–21 October 2011. 
  27. ^ 30 FIFA - Prix Liliane Stewart pour les arts du design - Colouring Light: Brian Clarke. An artist apart. Montreal: FIFA (via Vimeo). 2013. 
  28. ^ Alfred Brendel on Music: Three Lectures. UK: Amazon. 
  29. ^ Mapping the Body. UK: Zone Books. 

External links[edit]

Kidel talks about Soweto String Ensemble on PlushMusic Live
Kidel's obituary of James Hillman in The Guardian
Short biography on Calliope Media website
Full biography on Calliope Media website
Contributor's page on The Arts Desk website

A sequence in Rod the Mod Has Come of Age that shows Stewart having fun with an inept radio journalist
Clips from Naked and Famous
Clips from A Hospital Remembers, another film shot on a Sony DCR-VX1000 camera