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One To Watch: Ben Lewis – movieScope

One To Watch: Ben Lewis

After graduating from Cambridge University, filmmaker Ben spent time working at MTV News. From there, he began making documentaries, beginning with The King of Communism: The Pomp & Pageanty of Nicolae Ceausescu in 2002. His latest film, Google and the World Brain, was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

What training have you received?

A degree in history and history of art from Cambridge University,  and early years at MTV. My best training was not to go to film school; instead history taught me how to tell stories and history of art told me how to make images. I worked at MTV in the nineties, writing MTV news. It was the world ‘s silliest job (Headline: ‘Michael Jackson is sporting last year’s nose, according to an article in Vanity Fair about fashions in plastic surgery…’) but it was also the greatest place to learn on the job. I got loads of experience shooting short reports.

What kind of projects attract you?

I like unusual off-the-wall stories that make you think at first  ‘why make a film about that?’, and then when you watch the whole film you think  ‘Ah, now I understand’. So I used Communist jokes to get people to feel what it was like to live under communism, and Google’s book scanning project to critique the internet. In my art market filmThe Great Contemporary Art Bubble, I was really using contemporary art to critique the global economy and Zeitgeist.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a documentary filmmaker?

Oh, lots of advice. Basically watch movies and documentaries, and always think ‘where have they put the camera?’ Analyse the story, break it down, understand the decisions behind the sequence of images and words. Take notes. Listen to your critics; films are made by teams of people not by egotistical visionaries. Actually I recommend Michael Rabiger’s books; basic but invaluable.

Tell us the most significant moment in your career so far

Getting to Sundance, probably, with Google and the World Brain (which still, strangely, has not been sold to a US broadcaster… I am suspicious). Though the watershed moment was when Nick Fraser from BBC’s Storyville commissioned my film Hammer and Tickle; that encouraged me to follow my own madcap ideas, leading to my cult series about artists, Art Safari

You ‘ll die happy when…

I have produced a few films that dared to try to change people’s minds, and take on the billionaires.

 Supported by the Skillset Film Skills Fund, as part of A Bigger Future 2 (

Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 34 (May/June 2013)



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