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Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)


Main image of Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)

As a teenager growing up in Oldham, Lancashire, Barry Ackroyd saw Ken Loach's Kes (1969) on its original release and recognised its characters as kindred spirits. Twenty years later, he became Loach's regular cinematographer, his documentary background having given him a keen instinct for obtaining the perfect image even in situations where actors have been encouraged to improvise and ignore their marks. His distinctive brand of grainy, naturally-lit, often hand-held realism has become increasingly influential, garnering him an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA for The Hurt Locker (US, 2008), in which his stylistic signature was at least as visible as that of its director Kathryn Bigelow.

Encouraged by his art teacher, Ackroyd originally intended to become a sculptor, but discovered 16mm film while studying fine art at Portsmouth Polytechnic. To this day he often favours 16mm's more obtrusive grain, because his training taught him to be acutely aware of the tactility of objects, a concept that applies as much to the surface of celluloid (and the way light reacts to it) as it does to a physical object.

Ackroyd spent the 1980s in television, mainly on documentaries, in which capacity he first worked with Ken Loach on The View from the Woodpile (Channel 4, tx. 12/6/1989) and the Northern Ireland polemic Time to Go (BBC, tx. 9/5/1989). From the building-site comedy Riff-Raff (1991) to Looking for Eric (France/UK, 2009), Ackroyd would shoot virtually all of Loach's fiction features and many of his documentaries. Their intuitive rapport was recognised by a special 'Best Duo' award at the 2002 Camerimage Film Festival and a European Film Award for Ackroyd's contribution to The Wind that Shakes the Barley (UK/Eire/Germany, 2006).

Alongside fiction projects for Carine Adler, Steven Poliakoff, Dominic Savage and others, Ackroyd continued to shoot documentaries, notably with Nick Broomfield, who appreciated his ability to react quickly to deliberately-engineered confrontations with the late South African neo-Nazi leader Eugene Terre'blanche, the subject of The Leader, His Driver and the Driver's Wife (Channel 4, tx. 4/4/1991). Ackroyd would subsequently shoot Broomfield's Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992) and Tracking Down Maggie (Channel 4, tx. 19/5/1994).

He collaborated twice with the writer-director pairing of Jimmy McGovern and Charles McDougall on the drama-documentaries recreating the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster (Hillsborough, ITV, tx. 5/12/1996) and the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland (Sunday, Channel 4, tx. 28/1/2002). These led to journalist-turned-director Paul Greengrass hiring him to shoot the September 11 hijacking reconstruction United 93 (France/UK/US, 2006) and the War on Terror-inspired Green Zone (France/US/UK, 2010). For the latter, Ackroyd met the challenge of filming a 20-minute large-scale action scene in almost pitch darkness.

The near-simultaneous release of United 93 and The Wind that Shakes the Barley brought Ackroyd to Kathryn Bigelow's attention. Rejecting conventional dramatic blocking, Ackroyd approached her tense Iraq bomb-disposal drama The Hurt Locker as if it were a documentary, using the same 16mm equipment with which he had shot his early television work and operating one of the four cameras himself.

Michael Brooke

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Ae Fond Kiss (2004)Ae Fond Kiss (2004)

Unusually tender Ken Loach feature about love across cultural divides

Thumbnail image of Bread and Roses (2001)Bread and Roses (2001)

Ken Loach's first US film, about the exploitation of Latino workers in LA

Thumbnail image of Ladybird Ladybird (1994)Ladybird Ladybird (1994)

Heartbreaking drama of a mother's struggle to keep her children

Thumbnail image of Land and Freedom (1995)Land and Freedom (1995)

Passionate tale of British volunteers fighting the Spanish Civil War

Thumbnail image of Looking for Eric (2009)Looking for Eric (2009)

Football-related supernatural buddy comedy from Ken Loach (!)

Thumbnail image of Raining Stones (1993)Raining Stones (1993)

Jobless Bob struggles to buy a communion dress for his daughter

Thumbnail image of Riff-Raff (1991)Riff-Raff (1991)

Ken Loach tragicomedy set on a London building site

Thumbnail image of Stella Does Tricks (1996)Stella Does Tricks (1996)

Uncompromising drama starring Kelly Macdonald as a teenage prostitute

Thumbnail image of Sweet Sixteen (2002)Sweet Sixteen (2002)

Bleak portrait of a Scottish teenager coping with drugs and poverty

Thumbnail image of Under the Skin (1997)Under the Skin (1997)

Intense psychological drama about two bereaved sisters

Thumbnail image of Big George Is Dead (1987)Big George Is Dead (1987)

Two old friends - or are they? - go for a nostalgic night on the town

Thumbnail image of Cazalets, The (2001)Cazalets, The (2001)

Drama about how the wealthy Cazalets are affected by World War II

Thumbnail image of Flickering Flame, The (1996)Flickering Flame, The (1996)

Polemical documentary about an under-reported dockers' dispute

Thumbnail image of Hillsborough (1996)Hillsborough (1996)

Powerful drama about the 1989 football stadium tragedy and its aftermath

Thumbnail image of Leader, his Driver and the Driver's Wife, The (1991)Leader, his Driver and the Driver's Wife, The (1991)

Nick Broomfield documentary classic about South African neo-Nazis

Thumbnail image of Life After Life (1994)Life After Life (1994)

An IRA man is released from prison into a very different Northern Ireland

Thumbnail image of Lost Prince, The (2003)Lost Prince, The (2003)

Lavish, complex story of Prince John, the frail, troubled son of King George V

Thumbnail image of Out of Control (2002)Out of Control (2002)

Hard-hitting drama about three boys' experience of borstal

Thumbnail image of Tracking Down Maggie (1994)Tracking Down Maggie (1994)

Hilarious account of Nick Broomfield's attempts to interview the former PM

Thumbnail image of View from the Woodpile, The (1989)View from the Woodpile, The (1989)

Abandoned young people speak out in this lively Ken Loach documentary

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Collaboration is key for Britain's foremost political filmmaker

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Thumbnail image of Loach, Ken (1936-)Loach, Ken (1936-)

Director, Writer