UK Award-winning Arts Documentary Film-maker

Mike Dibb: UK Award-winning Arts Documentary Film-maker

Articles

Reviews

About Time

About Time is a polished six-part chime on the concept of time through the ages. Dry? Far from it!

Elizabeth Cowley, The Mail on Sunday, May 12 1985

Diverse series in different styles aims not to be too philosophical about its subject. Starts with ‘Time is Money,’ a programme generally opposed to people being slaves of the clock…it turns out to be a discursive, often interesting programme- the 20th-century equivalent of the Victorian literary essay.

T.S. Ferguson

Directors Michael Dibb and Chris Rawlence have done their homework. Their findings sparkle with fun, surpirse, and in some cases an almost eerie sense of revelation.

Elizabeth Cowley, Daily Mail, May 29 1985

Imaginative and stimulating series about the effects of time on society and individuals.

Geoffrey Phillips, The London Standard, May 29 1985

These words had to be written by a certain time. You have a certain number of minutes in which to read them. A slick, witty six-part series concerns the tyranny of calendar and clock…Directors Christopher Rawlence and Michael Dibb have taken a wide brief, embracing, visually, both cemetery and egg-timer and, aurally, clock tick-tock and heart beat. Their thesis is that time flies in the face of freedom: the clocking in and clocking out, the smiling brag that ‘it took my hours’, our delight that the boss will spare some minutes of ‘his valuable time’ are all, the series argues, part of a process which keeps workers under the thumb of both minute hand and management…For some these ideas may come from the Mickey Mouse Watch end of philosophy but a series which explains longitude without inducing lassitude is doing something right.

The Times, May 15 1985

CLR James in conversation with Stuart Hall

Novelist, historian, cricket writer and, above all, political theorist and activist, CLR James is one of the most outstanding and wide-ranging black intellectuals of this century. Stuart Hall talks with him about some of the people he has met, from Leon Trotsky to Paul Robeson, and traces the development of his ideas from his childhood in Trinidad, where he was born in 1901, to the long periods spent in England and the US.

Old men grow fond, and quite right. CLR JAMES TLKING TO STUART HALL was filmed three years ago when the old spellbinder was only 84. If he’s a touch pleased with himself, the trumpet he blows plays glorious tunes.

W Stephen Gilbert, The Independent, 30 April 1988

Classically Cuban

‘Clasically Cuban: Alicia Alonso and the Cuban National Ballet,’ as directed by Michael Dibb with assistance from Diane Mansfield, and shown last night on BBC2, is a model of how to put on the small screen a vivid, lively and varied programme about a ballet company.

Fernau Hall, The Daily Telegraph, January 19th 1983

Splendidly tendentious and passionately felt account of the Cuban National Ballet, finding its feet in post-revolutionary Cuba under the inspired direction of Alicia Alonso.

Time Out

Cuban documentary - a portrait of its National Ballet at work with prima ballerina/artistic director/co-founder Alicia Alonso, a daunting little lady who looks as if she could lick the most unlikely raw material into shape and still have time to save the world before breakfast.

Daily Express, 18th January 1983

Last night’s Arena-Clasically Cuban (BBC2), could certainly stand up for itself and it was daringly presented without a guide. It was a solid and positive portrait of Cuba’s prima ballerina and artistic director of the Cuban National Ballet, Alicia Alonso.

Jenny Rees, Daily Express, January 19th 1983

Don’t Tell Leonardo

Wittily bordering on the blasphemous, but never truly offending, illustrator Ralph Steadman boldly goes where no artist has gone before: into the magical mystery of the immortal Leonardo Da Vinci-and actually tweaks the Master’s beard to make us laugh. I have never seen a film quite like this. A saucy, clever and gloriously irreverent documentary by Michael Dibb.

With readings from Leonardo’s work by Michael Hordern and music by the Consort of Musicke, this should be a quite distinctive piece of arts TV, especially given Dibb’s remarkable track record.

Time Out

Dibb’s documentary was part respectful profile of an artist, part fly-on-the-wall observation of a notable eccentric…This film, once I had got over wondering ‘What is all this about?’ and ‘But is it art?’ seemed similarly sweet, silly and appealing.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Standard, 10th November 1983

An imaginative tribute to the extraordinary gifts of artist-inventor Leonardo Da Vinci, expressed by illustrator Ralph Steadman with an enthusiasm that even takes him gliding for the first time.

Elmore Leonard’s Criminal Records

A fascinating insight into a crime novelist’s mind, and more particularly how his fictional character are inspired real-life people.

Geoffrey Hobbs, Daily Mail, April 12 1991

A must for all thriller addicts.

The Daily Telegraph, April 12 1991

Dibb takes Leonard through the paces and round the mean streets both of his native Detroit and his adopted Miami, settings for the man’s survivalist epics…Dibb concentrates on the real-life equivalents of the psychos, role-players, grifters and anti-heroes of the novels.

Time Out, April 1991

Fields of Play

Genuinely conceptual television that is also immensely pleasurable - a rare combination … The most challenging documentary series in years.

Mike Poole, City Limits, 19th March 1982

The recent documentary series make up a mixed bag but among them is the last BBC staff work by Michael Dibb, one of the most intelligent - and certainly the deftest - of all documentarists.

In five parts, Fields of Play (BBC2) took us from some diverting and informal ruminations on childhood behaviour through games of chance and skill and the institutions of sport ta a (timely) consideration of war-games and the strategies we play with in life, even at the risk of the holocaust. Dibb achieved this by the use of techniques I heartily endorse, eschewing overt editorialising…The result was that the material spoke for itself and the juxtapositions could be taken or left as the viewer wished.

W Stephen Gilbert, Broadcast, 10 May 1982

1. Plays of Meaning

This week’s most challenging viewing is the first of five films by Mike Dibb on play … provocative and playful … the film is as far from dry academicism as it’s possible to be. Dibb steers the film carefully and logically … this looks like an unmissable series.

Martyn Auty, Time Out

1. Plays of Meaning

For openers we’re in the hands of academic Brian Sutton-Smith who provides an invigorating and yes, playful investigation into the complexities and paradoxes of the word ‘play’

The Observer

1. Plays of Meaning

Brian Sutton Smith is lovely, slightly loopy New Zealand academic…a couple of charming psychologits/anthropologists in London and New York…some super examples of joke-telling from a set of impish kids… Indeed lots to bite on and chuckle at.

Daily Mail ‘Pick of The Day’

5. Playing for Real

A dazzling finale …

City Limits

5. Playing for Real

Final part of Mike Dibb’s outstanding series on play is a fitting conclusion to the exploration of game-playing in society that has been so admirable conducted over the last four weeks …

Time Out

5. Playing for Real

Great fun and very revealing, this sociological five-parter on why we do what we do and the way we do it … sinister undertones … stay tuned.

Daily Mail, ‘Pick of the Day’

Fringe Benefits

Get your tape (and video) recorders ready -this is one to keep. An anthology of political theatre songs from the fringe of the ‘70s, it features four groups filmed in performance at the Albany Empire and Northern Club. The Albany’s own Combination, the Sadista Sisters, Red Ladder and Belt and Braces offer the best entertainment of the week with producer Mike Dibb complementing the political edge of the songs, where appropriate, with photos and fashion plates. All the songs have a point, and an extremely sharp one, but two in particular carry remarkable force: ‘City Men Talking’ by Belt and Braces is a bare, direct ‘Troops Out’ statement, and extraordinary to see on a TV screen, while the same group’s ‘Police Song’ is an at first hilarious, finally deadly serious attack on the SPG. Throughout, the filming (under Colin Waldeck) and sound recording (John Murphy) capture perfectly the unique relationships between singers and audience and illustrate a form of television address quite distinct from the dominant, distanced one of mainstream Light Entertainment. All in all, terrific, just terrific.

Time Out

Before your heart sinks at nearly an hour of songs that never made the charts by the companies of small community theatres concentrating on unrelieved left-wing propaganda, derision of the capitalist system and regretting odorous personal deficiencies, let me say that that is how I approached this and it is all those things. It is also increasingly enjoyable and surprisingly good, with much fine music. Top of the Pops rarely has one song as good, not that they are really comparable. Excellent work by Belt and Braces, the Albany Combination, The Red Ladder Theatre and, especially, the Sadista sisters.

The Daily Telegraph, April 12 1980

Jazz, Rock and Marriage

Jazz, Rock and Marriage (BBC1, 9.00) is a fascinating double profile of Barbara Thompson, clasically trained jazz instrumentalist and her husband, self-taught rock drummer Jon Hiseman. He has now given up his band, Colosseum II to join her quartet, Paraphernalia.

Daily Mail, 15 December 1979

Barbara Thompson, one of the country’s leading jazz sax and clarinet players, is married to drummer Jon Hiseman, late of Colosseum, now part of her quarter, Paraphernalia. Michael Dibb’s film of their life, careers -she trained at he RMC- and music, finds them at home and on the road, including the Bracknell Jazz Festival performance which gets fuller display on Monday night.

The Guardian, 15 December 1979

Barbara Thompson is a slender, genteel-looking blonde who plays the saxophone, heads Paraphernalia -a band of male musicians (including her husband Jon Hiseman) -writes their music and combines this with bringing up a young family…Other women with out-of-the-rut aspirations will find encouragement in an hour-long programme about her lifestyle, “Jazz Rock and Marriage.”

Daily Express, 15th December 1979

Made in Latin America

Stunning start to an eight-part series on the cultures of this troubled continent. It goes far back into history and is gloriously illustrated by leading writers and film-makers. Don’t miss it.

Elizabeth Cowley, Daily Mail, October 1989

A major eight-part project from the BBC’s Music and Arts Department which eschews he use of a celebrity gringo guide, allowing Latin Americans to speak with minimal meditation…Dreams of a New World, a historical introduction covering the period from Columbus to Bolivar, explores the myths and metaphors that informed European perception of the ‘new’ continent, and later its perception of itself. As one would expect of a film overseen by director and series producer Mike Dibb, it’s a fascinating intricately organised tissue of ideas and images, auguring well for the remainder of the series.

The Listener

This is an interesting, rich and vivid artistic and cultural survey of Latin America…Strongly recommended.

Correspondent, December 17th 1989

Made in Latin America [is] BBC2’s spectacularly eloquent new documentary series, which promises to be in eight parts, but should take 20.

Howard Jacobson, The Sunday Correspondent, November 5 1989

Mike Dibb’s series…has made us aware of the crusted, jewel-bright variety of Latin America.

Hugh Hebert, The Guardian, December 20 1989

Memories of The Future

this is an elegant, informed documentary on that 19th-century artisan, designer, poet and socialist William Morris.

Sunday Times Magazine

The first of two remarkable films by Mike Dibb…takes a keenly critical look at the work and writings of William Morris…As with all Dibb’s films there’s a plenitude of ideas, an openness in the exposition and a well-argued thesis that points the relevance of historical material to contemporary concerns…At a time when British socialism urgently needs to return to roots and question the relation of the work ethic to automated production and to culture and society, this film must be acclaimed as a pioneering programme.

Time Out

Mike Dibb’s film on Ruskin, to be seen as a follow-up or even ‘prequel’ to last week’s ‘William Morris’, focuses on the social and philosophical background to Ruskin’s writings and paintings. Once again it’s a gloriously illustrated, cogently argued piece that provides a fascinating context for students of Victorian art and attitudes and, as with the Morris film, Dibb never loses sight of the contemporary relevance of his subject matter…Try not to miss this.

Time Out

Naturally Creative

The giraffes roam through an intriguing film called Naturally Creative, to which Channel 4 devotes one and a half hours on Sunday night. Made by one of the most adventurous independent producers, Mike Dibb, it explores the origins of creativity in Man…Man is distinguished from even the most beauty-loving giraffe by many things. By laughter, by a sense of the future, but above all by imagination. Mike Dibb’s camera-work shows the shells of the seashore, the petals of a flower. But to create a rose-window of stained glass is something else…Naturally Creative should be seen. Art films on TV are usually a celebration of some famous person…They rarely conduct an argument. Mike Dibb and Peter Fuller help establish how far we have come from the Modernist obsession with structure- the world in which a house was ‘a machine for living.’ The art is in the surface.

Paul Barker

With the critic Peter Fuller, Mike Dibb has made an outstandingly effective documentary about the very well-spring of imagination. In NATURALLY CREATIVE Dibb gathers a number of thinkers and juxtaposes their views with minimum fuss and intrusion, creating (because the thinkers are well-chosen) a rich stew of rumination…the film is provocative, generous and enthralling.

W Stephen Gilbert, The Independent, 28 November 1987

Ambitious in scope, expressive imagery and pot pourri approaches to its biology/creativity equation, Mike Dibb’s quietly audacious major documentary attempts to signpost the ‘natural’ need for art and culture. Utilising everything from prehistoric cave paintings to the importance of play and the geometric beauty of fractal computer art, Dibb, together with art critic and author Peter Fuller, imparts a galvanising intellectual freshness to the otherwise arch ‘rich tapestry of life’ cliché…triple recommended.

John Lyttle, City Limits

In the past decade, Mike Dibb has evolved a style of documentary making which derives from his conviction that the language of film is uniquely well equipped for ‘playfully juxtaposing ideas and making them live – and connecting together areas of experience normally kept separate.’ Naturally Creative…isn’t a dry and esoteric essay, though – rather a celebration of humanity-in-nature.

John Dugdale

Ralph Steadman

A little late in the day television has discovered Ralph Steadman… In Arena: Art and Design (BBC 2, 10.45) the white-haired, pink-faced downer of pints and pens emerges as a wry observer in his chat as well as his drawings…Steadman never fixes tbe camera with a beady eye but lets his drawings talk to it instead…His latest book of cartoons, America, is out soon. After this programme there should be queues for it.

Daily Mail, 5 February 1977

Arena: Art and Design (10.45 BBC2) has done him [Ralph Steadman] proud, with the very model of a film about a contemporary artist, blending interview with detail of how he works and plenty of examples. The cumulative effect is such that when producer Mike Dibb artfully separates his final captions with photographs of people, you find yourself looking at them as drawings by Steadman.

The Sunday Times

Former Private Eye cartoonist Ralph Steadman-or STEAD-man as he signs himself- answered a ‘You Too Can Learn to Draw’ advertisement, then graduated to earning pints of beer sketching customers in pubs. Now that savage eye of his has won recognition all over the world. His sketches of the Watergate hearings and the Patty Heatst trial, stand comparison with any of his contemporaries. This film, coinciding with a retrospective exhibition of his work at the National Theatre, follows the illustrations he is doing to an anti-war story book for children.

Daily Mail, 9 February 1977

‘You can say it far better in a picture’ says Ralph Steadman, the affable subject of this edition; his pictures are fantastic, afflicted, rich, gross.

Time Out

Seeing Through Drawing

How gladdening it was, as Seeing Through Drawing went on its single-minded quest, to hear the ranks of history’s great draughstmen all speak with united voice. Leonore was there, talking about his dissection drawings; Olympian awareness of hard-won triumph. Rodin was there, with the vibrant figure-drawings he made without taking his eyes off the model… Van Gogh was there, depicting the vitality in the soil and extolling the loving drugery of painting things the fashionable academics never failed to notice.

What goes on in this intense and primary way of looking at the world? The programme answers its own questions with unforced eclecticism, setting children beside Klee, Sunday painters beside students, and Hockney beside Matisse beside Giacometti beside Jim Dine beside a street artist, all filmed in the act of making a personal portrait from life…Windy celebration was kept to a minimum throughout.

The Times, March 13 1978

Sheer Filth

In another first rate edition, Open the Box (Channel 4) looked at how children might be battered by what they see on television. By the age of 16, said one parent, his child would have watched 16,000 murders, and not one couple making love…Mike Dibb’s programme - finely edited by Ray Frawley in a way that mimicked its subject-matter - covered a lot of very watchable ground.

Nicholas Shakespeare

The parliamentary debate on the extension of the obscenity law to TV may have ended, but this final film in the Open the Box series ought to ensure that the debate will break out again in homes all over Britain tonight soon after the concluding shots of a bullet-ridden stuntman, and the closing credits, have faded off the screen.

Peter Davalle, The Times, June 23 1986

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

…Alternatives to television’s dominant presentation of the visual arts have also been achieved by programme-makers working within common forms, but inflecting them with (for television) unexpected critical approaches. Mike Dibb’s profile with Peter Fuller of US painter Robert Natkin (Somewhere Over The Rainbow -1980) remains one of the best examples. Shifting frames of reference (psychoanalysis, fantasy, the painter’s relationship with the market…) were employed to present a stimulating study of Natkin quite different from what would almost certainly have resulted had he been the subject of The South Bank Show.

John Wyver, Broadcast

Studs Terkel’s Chicago

The first conclusion you come to when you watch Studs Terkel stumping round Chicago is that this is a guy you would like to meet.

Patricia Finney, The London Standard, May 31 1985

The fancy term for Studs Terkel would be ‘Oral Historian’. His books on America as seen by the masses are bestsellers. The plain truth is Studs loves to shoot the breeze. He listens too, a somewhat rare talent, especially when coupled with cutting intelligence and a flair for idiomatic snap. Michael Dibb’s grasshopper approach to this jokey subject is perfect, hopping from the rise of black power to the blues with excursions into the Yank political circus, traditional history, the Depression, the ‘50s and other fleeting mysteries. As the camera minces and twirls Studs holds forth, energy pouring out. Documentaries seldom leave you squirming with happiness - this one reverses the usual supine routine. It’s giddy making, informative and dizzy. Terkel is a natural -watching him is a pleasure. Go to it.

John Lyttle, City Limits

The great virtue of last night’s documentary was that it transmitted the essential life of the man, and evoked the energy of the city (and the country) from which that life springs.

Peter Ackroyd

Michael Dibb’s stylish film…turns the mike on Terkel and puts faces to the voices from four of his books.

Mark Lawson, The Sunday Times, 2 June 1985

The Country and The City

An extremely dense translation to film of Raymond Williams’ 1973 book of the same title which traces images of ‘nature’ and ‘town’ through 200 years of English literature. The connections Williams establishes as he traces the history of Tatton Park near Manchester - ‘an almost perfect example of how the English country house has influenced if not dominated our images of the country’ - are often startling and the film’s style continually illuminates the overall argument. All of the details taken from writers, painters, landscape artists and from 19th and 20th history of major urban centres are placed within a framework of class-based economic history - ‘the country and the city are parts of an interacting system dominated by a single class’- and the result is a unique TV essay. Michael Dibb, the director, has worked well with Williams to ensure that every image, every snatch of sound-track plays its part in the structure.

Time Out

The Further Adventures of Don Quixote

For Bookmark, [Dibb] brings breadth and style to another great cultural archetype…Don Quixote…Dibb’s premise is that Cervantes’s great work is much better known than read and that most us get our images of Quixote and Sancho Panza not from the printed page but the cinema, theatre, concert hall, opera, ballet and paintings.

Peter Waymark, The Times, March 25 1995

Mike Dibb’s nimble, good-humoured film conveys something of Quixote’s ubiquity.

Mick Imlah, March 31 1995

…Saturday night’s glorious Bookmark…This was a witty film teeming with clips from television versions, movies, operas, cheep cartoons, plus glimpses of images on Spanish tiles, buses, freight lorries; and Doré, Daumier, Picasso. But this Bookmark also cleverly never left the book for long, returning to interviews with writers who spoke passionately about this “first modern novel” published in the early years of the 17th century.

Lynne Truss, The Times, 27th March 1995

The Spirit of Lorca

A remarkable film portrait of the great Spanish poet … [a] beautifully framed film …

Carl Gardner, The Listener

With Dibb’s mastery of visual argument, unfolding images are adorned with readings from the poetry and the result is a rich and poetic … tapestry of Spanish life.

Geoff Dyer, City Limits

… takes the tears out of art appreciation and is jolly good fun to boot.

The Times

Evocative portrait of Federico Garcia Lorca, poet and dramatist, executed at the age of 38.

The Independent

…aided by some stunning landscape photography, and including fascinating footage of modern street theatre productions of Lorca’s plays, the programme succeeds in placing his work, with its extraordinary cadences and emotional violence, within the context of his native Andalusia.

Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Independent

The crime for which Federico Garcia Lorca was executed was that of being a sentient and articulate human being. What a pity that this humanist who never joined a political party should by his death have become a martyr of the Left. The Spirit of Lorca (BBC2) completed Arena’s triptych of modern Spanish icons. Forced to be the most resourceful of the three, it turned out the most gorgeous, with the absence of primary televisual material mitigated by excerpts from Yerma, shots of the Andalusian landscape and lashings of cante jondo.

Martin Cropper, The Times

Through the recollections of friends and fellow poets, with singers and theatrical performances, in Spain, Cuba and the United States, this film evokes the passionate and potent spirit of Lorca’s work and tragically short life.

Radio Times

Ways of Seeing

If you are in the least interested in art, have your set tuned and be ready to have your eyes opened by John Berger in the first of a stunning new series “Ways of Seeing” - an eyeopener in more senses than one.

Sunday Times

A timely view of the camera and in particular of television as an agent of distortion… a programme dedicated , as is so much of John Berger’s writing, to stripping away the aesthetic mysteries which surround art criticism.

Observer

Marvellous series.

Daily Mail

Ways of Seeing opened our eyes to visual culture: A 1972 TV series was a British arts broadcasting landmark, but in recent celebrations the role of the director has been forgotten

The Guardian, 7 September 2012

What’s Cuba Playing At?

I think a reds-under-the-bed American migth have a fit viewing this joyous…romp through the orgins of Cuban music. Afro-Spanish-Catholic influences abound. Rumbas, cha-cha-chas, jazz and heart-rending folk ballads…seem to wash Castro’s back streets with individual rainbows of colour.

Elizabeth Cowley, Daily Mail, December 21st 1984

Cubans living in New York tell of musisicans living in hovels, unable to afford instruments or to choose when, where and with whom to play; of communities starved of music, dancing and good-time entertainment. But, as Western visitors to Cuba will confirm, there is still a wealth of music in Cuba which has survived the political change. During a three-week stay on the island Arena filmed this very active and diverse scene.

Sue Steward, Radio Times

In the 25th anniversary year of the Revolution, Arena traces the Afro-Spanish roots of Cuba’s rich musical history. If, for you, the rumba still means Come Dancing, then it’s time you saw the real thing.

Radio Times