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Famous Like Me > Director > W > Peter Watkins

Profile of Peter Watkins on Famous Like Me

Name: Peter Watkins  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 29th October 1935
Place of Birth: Norbiton, Surrey, England, UK
Profession: Director
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Peter Watkins (born October 29, 1935) is an English film and television director. He was born in Norbiton, Surrey, lived in Sweden and Lithuania for many years, and now lives in Canada.

After studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Watkins began his television and film career as an assistant producer of short TV films and commercials, and in the early 1960s was an assistant editor and director of documentaries at the BBC. All of his films have either been documentary or drama presented with documentary techniques, sometimes portraying historical occurrences and sometimes possible near future events as if contemporary reporters and filmmakers were there to interview the participants. Watkins pioneered this technique in his first full-length television film, Culloden, which portrayed the Jacobite uprising of 1745 in a style similar to the Vietnam War reporting of the time.

The scope and formal innovation of Culloden drew immediate critical acclaim for the previously unknown director, and the BBC commissioned him for another ambitious production, the nuclear-war docudrama The War Game, for The Wednesday Play strand. Although Watkins' strong anti-war beliefs had already been apparent in Culloden, the BBC apparently expected The War Game to be dry and patriotic; when the finished film turned out to be not only graphically horrifying but an open rebuke to government policy, the BBC were pressured into banning it from broadcast by the government, although they did arrange a screening for journalists and television critics. Watkins has since had similar conflicts with state television networks in other countries. The production was subsequently released to cinemas and won the 1966 Academy Award for Documentary Feature, eventually being screened on the BBC in the 1980s.

His reputation as a political provocateur was amplified by Punishment Park, a story of violent political conflict in the United States that coincided with the Kent State Massacre. Opposition to war is a common theme of his work, but the films' political messages are often ambiguous, usually allowing the main characters to present violently opposing viewpoints which in many cases are improvised by the cast: in Punishment Park, the soldiers and dissidents were played by nonprofessional actors whose political opinions matched those of their characters so well that the director said he feared actual violence would break out on set. He took a similar approach in his Paris Commune reenactment La Commune, using newspaper advertisements to recruit conservative actors who would have a genuine antipathy to the Commune rebels. Watkins is also known for political statements about the film and television media, writing extensively about flaws in television news and the dominance of the Hollywood-derived narrative style that he refers to as "the monoform".

After the banning of The War Game and the poor reception of his first non-television feature, Privilege, Watkins left England and has made all of his subsequent films abroad: The Gladiators in Sweden, Punishment Park in the United States, Edvard Munch in Norway, The Journey (a 14-hour film cycle about the threat of nuclear war) in ten different countries, and La Commune in France.

Freethinker: The Life and Work of Peter Watkins, is a forthcoming biography by Patrick Murphy, a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at York St John University and Dr John Cook. It is being compiled with Watkins' active help and participation.

Selected filmography

  • Culloden (1964)
  • The War Game (1965)
  • Privilege (1967)
  • The Gladiators (The Peace Game) (1969)
  • Punishment Park (1970)
  • Edvard Munch (1973)
  • The Journey (1987)
  • The Freethinker (1994) (Titled Fritänkaren in Swedish)
  • La Commune (1999)

External link

  • Peter Watkins' official site
  • Film International, Peter Watkins Special, January 2003

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Peter Watkins