Curtis at the San Francisco Film Festival in 2005
Kevin Adam Curtis
26 May 1955
|Alma mater||University of Oxford (BA)|
Kevin Adam Curtis (born 26 May 1955) is a British documentary filmmaker. His favourite theme is "power and how it works in society", and his works explore areas of sociology, psychology, philosophy and political history. Curtis has called himself "fundamentally a historian", and has described his work as journalism that happens to be expounded via film. His films have won four BAFTAs. He has worked for the BBC throughout his career.
Curtis was born in Dartford, Kent, and grew up in Platt. His father was Martin Curtis (10 August 1917 – January 2002), a cinematographer from Sevenoaks who worked with Humphrey Jennings. His family had a left wing background. Curtis attended the Sevenoaks School on a county scholarship. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in human sciences at Mansfield College, Oxford. He started a PhD, during which he taught in politics, but he became disillusioned with academia and decided to leave.
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 was subsequently given a post on That's Life!, a magazine series that juxtaposed hard-hitting investigations and light-hearted content. He was a film director on Out of Court, a BBC Two legal series, from 1980 until 1982.
Curtis is inspired by the pioneering sociologist Max Weber, who (in Curtis's words) challenged the "crude, left-wing, vulgar Marxism that says that everything happens because of economic forces within society". Of his general political outlook, Curtis has also remarked:
People often accuse me of being a lefty. That's complete rubbish. If you look at The Century of the Self, what I'm arguing is something very close to a neoconservative position because I'm saying that, with the rise of individualism, you tend to get the corrosion of the other idea of social bonds and communal networks, because everyone is on their own. Well, that's what the neoconservatives argue, domestically. [...] If you ask me what my politics are, I'm very much a creature of my time. I don't really have any. I change my mind over different issues, but I am much more fond of a libertarian view. I have a more libertarian tendency [...] What's astonishing in our time is how the Left here has completely failed to come up with any alternatives, and I think you may well see a lefty libertarianism emerging because people will be much more sympathetic to it, or just a libertarianism, and out of that will come ideas. And I don't mean "localism".
You can trace back everything I do to that novel because it's all about grand history, individual experience, their relationship. And also collages, quotes from newsreels, cinema, newspapers. And it's about collage of history as well. That's where I get it all from.
Other creative influences are Robert Rauschenberg and Émile Zola. 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".
Instead of specially composed music because it "creates a sort of monoculture", he uses tracks from a variety of genres, decades, and countries, as well as sound effects that he discovers on old tapes.
According to a profile of Curtis by Tim Adams, published in The Observer: "If there has been a theme in Curtis's work … 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".
In 2005, Curtis received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. In 2006, he was given the Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Creative Contribution to Television at the British Academy Television Awards. In 2009, the Sheffield International Documentary Festival gave Curtis the Inspiration Award for inspiring viewers and other documentary filmmakers. In 2015, he was awarded the True Vision Award by the True/False Film Fest.
|1983||Just Another Day: Selfridges||Behind the scenes at Selfridges, a department store on Oxford Street, London.||BBC Two, 29 March 1983|
|1983||Just Another Day: The Seaside||A typical day in Walton-on-the-Naze.||BBC Two, 19 April 1983|
|1983||Trumpets and Typewriters: A History of War Reporting||The history of war correspondents.||BBC One, 19 July 1983|
|1984||Inquiry: The Great British Housing Disaster.||The system-built housing of the 1960s. Narrated by David Jones.||BBC Two, 4 September 1984|
|1984||Italians: The Mayor of Montemilone||The politics of a small Italian town and its communist mayor, Dino Labriola.||BBC One, 26 October 1984|
|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 at the height of the Cold War in 1949, and the role of double agent Kim Philby.||BBC One, 30 October 1984|
|1987||40 Minutes: Bombay Hotel||The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, contrasted with the poverty of the city's slums.||BBC Two, 30 April 1987|
|1988||An Ocean Apart||Explores the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States from World War I to the 1980s.||7||BBC One, 20 April 1988|
|1989||40 Minutes: The Kingdom of Fun||Documentary about the Metro Centre in Gateshead, developed by entrepreneur John Hall. It compares Hall's plans to regenerate North East England with those of Labour politician T. Dan Smith.||BBC Two, 19 January 1989|
|1989||Inside Story: The Road to Terror||How the Iranian Revolution turned from idealism to terror, drawing parallels with the French Revolution two hundred years earlier.||BBC One, 14 June 1989|
|1992||Pandora's Box||The dangers of technocratic and political rationality.||6||BBC Two, 11 June 1992||Originality and Best Factual Series, BAFTA Awards 1993|
|1995||The Living Dead||The different ways that history and memory (both national and individual) have been used and manipulated by politicians and others.||3||BBC Two, 30 May 1995|
|1996||Inside Story Special: £830,000,000 - Nick Leeson and the Fall of the House of Barings||Nick Leeson and the collapse of Barings Bank.||BBC One, 12 June 1996|
|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 never stopped reproducing.||BBC Two, 19 March 1997|
|1999||The Mayfair Set||Looks at the birth of the global arms trade, the invention of asset stripping, and how buccaneer capitalists shaped the Thatcher years, focusing on the rise of Colonel David Stirling, Jim Slater, Sir James Goldsmith and Tiny Rowland—members of the elite Clermont Club in the 1960s.||4||BBC Two, 18 July 1999||Best Factual Series or Strand, BAFTA Awards 2000|
|2002||The Century of the Self||How Freud's theories on the unconscious led to the development of public relations by his nephew 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 Two, 17 March 2002; art-house cinemas in the U.S.||Best Documentary Series, Broadcast Awards; Historical Film of the Year, Longman-History Today Awards; Nominated for Best Documentary Series, Royal Television Society|
|2004||The Power of Nightmares||Suggests a parallel between the rise of Islamism in the Arab world and neoconservatism in the United States, and their mutual need, argues Curtis, to create the myth of a dangerous enemy to gain support.||3||BBC Two, 20 October 2004||Best Factual Series or Strand, BAFTA Awards 2005|
|2007||The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom||Explores the modern concept of freedom, specifically, "how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic creatures led to today's idea of freedom".||3||BBC Two, 7 March 2007|
|2007||The Rise and Fall of the TV Journalist||Short film chronicling the transformation of mainstream media and the balance of political power in the last few decades by looking at how the role of the broadcast journalist has changed since the 1950s.||Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, third episode of the fourth series|
|2009||Oh Dearism||Short film about how mainstream media simplify complex events and present them as "scattered terrible things happening everywhere, Oh Dear", leaving the public feeling powerless to do anything about them.||Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, third episode of the first series|
|2009||It Felt Like a Kiss||Collaboration with theatre company Punchdrunk and Damon Albarn.||Manchester International Festival|
|2010||Paranoia and Moral Panics||Short film using the paranoia of Richard Nixon to explore how a similar outlook on life has been propagated on a larger social scale in the new media age and the resulting moral panics and immobilisation of politics.||Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, fourth episode of the second series|
|2011||All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace||Argues that computers have failed to liberate humanity, and instead have "distorted and simplified our view of the world around us". The title is taken from a 1967 poem of the same name by Richard Brautigan.||3||BBC Two, 23 May 2011|
|2011||Every Day Is Like Sunday||The rise and fall of press baron Cecil King, and the changing relationship between the public, politics and the media.||His personal blog. (This is not an officially released documentary but "a rough cut".)|
|2013||Everything Is Going According to Plan (Massive Attack v Adam Curtis)||Collaboration with Massive Attack. Based on technocrats and global corporations establishing an ultraconservative norm, with the internet providing a "fake, enchanting world, which has become a kind of prison".||Manchester International Festival|
|2014||Oh Dearism II||Short film examining the global events of 2014 to reveal a chaotic morass, the reporting of which is increasingly difficult to comprehend in the context of the 24-hour news cycle and the internet (special feature on Russian Vladislav Surkov).||Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe, 30 December 2014|
|2015||Bitter Lake||How Western leaders' simplistic good vs. evil narrative has failed in the complex post-war era, and how many Islamic terrorist groups have their origins in the U.S.'s long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia.||BBC iPlayer, 25 January 2015|
|2016||Living in an Unreal World||Short film for Vice Media about the illusion of stability, freedom, and prosperity in the West, comparing it to life in the Soviet Union during the 1970s. Ends with a trailer for HyperNormalisation.||Facebook, 15 October 2016|
|2016||HyperNormalisation||"How we got to this strange time of great uncertainty and confusion where those who are supposed to be in power are paralysed and have no idea what to do".||BBC iPlayer, 16 October 2016|
|2019||Untitled||Collaboration with Massive Attack. "How we have moved into a strange backward-looking world, enclosed by machines that read our data and predict our every move, haunted by ghosts from the past".||Mezzanine XXI tour|
|2019||What Is It That Is Coming?||Working title for a new nine-part series.|
The BBC also won best single doc for 9/11 - A Firefighters' Story and best series, The Century of the Self, while BBC Films took best single drama for Out of Control.