Mark Kidel grew up and was educated in France, Austria, the UK and the USA. He studied PPE at Oxford, where he edited “Isis”, and did postgraduate work in international relations at the University of Pennsylvania.
He learned about film making as a freelance researcher and director at the BBC in the 1970’s. After assisting documentary directors Richard Taylor and John Percival, he the BBC music and arts department, one of the most creative in the BBC, where he made his first films, most notably two pioneering and now cult ‘rock docs’, “ So You Wanna Be a Rock’n’roll Star” (1975), a ground-breaking feature-length fly-on-the-wall chronicle of Southend band The Kursaal Flyers, as they tried to break in to the big time – a film sometimes thought to have inspired “Spinal Tap” – and “Rod The Mod Has Come of Age” (1976), also feature-length, a ruthless and hilarious account of Rod Stewart in promotional mode.
During his time with the BBC, Kidel campaigned for broadcast TV’s support of struggling video artists, and commissioned new work from Peter Donebauer and David Hall. As Editor of the new BBC-2 arts programme ARENA (of which he was one of the founding producers) in 1976, he was responsible for programming the first compilation of video art on British television.
In 1976, Mark Kidel moved to Devon to take up a position in communications with the Dartington Hall Trust, the unique and multifaceted experimental enterprise in South Devon. He also concentrated more on writing, mostly about rock music. He was the first rock critic of the New Statesman, a regular columnist in the Listener and wrote profiles of musicians for the Sunday Colour Supplements. In the early 1980’s he was a part-time lecturer in the Music Department of Dartington College of Arts as well as director of the Dartington Conference, which explored cutting-edge connections between the arts and sciences. During this time, and not least because of Dartington’s connections with ethnomusicology, he became more seriously interested in world music, and, with Peter Gabriel, co-founded WOMAD.
While in Devon, Mark Kidel co-edited (with Susan Rowe-Leete) “The Meaning of Illness” (RKP, London 1995), a series of essays on the relationship between psyche and soma ; “Learning by Doing” (Green Books, Hartland), a survey of Dartington’s experiments in education outside the classroom, and “Dartington” (Webb & Bower).
During his time at Dartington, Mark Kidel started working with James Hillman, the psychologist and writer. A weekend seminar on “Animals in Myth, Dreams and Fairy Tales” led to the making a number of films in the 1990’s, in collaboration with Susan Rowe-Leete and James Hillman, including the award-winning “Kind of Blue” a film essay on melancholia, “The Heart has Reasons” a film about the symbolism of the heart and heart disease and “The Architecture of the Imagination”, a ground-breaking series of five films about architecture, symbolism and psychology– with copious references to visual art and classic cinema as well as the everyday experience.
In the mid 1980’s he started working in TV again, starting with a series of Channel Four workshop films about men and masculinity, and continuing with “Sounds off the Beaten Track” a documentary about WOMAD (1987). His relationship with Channel Four started when he worked as a consultant to the commissioning editor for documentaries and led to a six-month period working as a commissioning executive for the first 12 hours of broadcast by La Sept, the French end of what would become ARTE. This time in France laid the ground for a series of collaborations with French production companies and ARTE France, a very fruitful line of work which continues to this day, and which thrives independently from much of what Mark does in the UK, although it has also made possible a number of UK-French co-productions including “Bill Viola: The Eye of the Heart”, “Paris Brothel” and “Hungary 1956: Our Revolution”.
Many of Mark’s best films have not been seen on UK TV – not least because of the BBC’s increasingly different priorities, compared to ARTE France. “Les hôpitaux meurent aussi”, a feature-length film for ARTE’s documentary slot “Grand Format”, and filmed over a year as the Paris Hôpital Laennec was closing down, is unflinching and moving exploration of the death of a much-loved institution as well as a meditation on mortality, loss and memory. “Lessons of a Master” is a film about the tragic and yet redemptive story of the great pianist Leon Fleisher. “Wild Ballerina” is a portrait of the American choreographer Karole Armitage who combines punk and classical ballet aesthetics. “Susheela Raman: Indian Journey” is a portrait of the British-Tamil musician as she seeks her roots in South India.
In the last 20 years, Mark has worked as a consultant to Channel Four, BBC Wales and United Television. He served twice on the Arts Council’s Film Committee in the late 1970’s and again in the 1990’s.
In the last two years, he has started teaching – most notably with Documentary Campus.
He is currently developing a number of documentaries as well as working on two non-fiction books, one of them a series of reflections on music and the other a memoir exploring his relationship with his father, the writer and journalist Boris Kidel. He is also a regular contributor to The Arts Desk, the critical website, as well as other publications.