A  tale of conflicts, Covid and Colston

AN award winning documentary film maker from St Andrews has published a memoir, trigged by his thoughts about the pandemic.

Martin Smith spent most of his working life making films about wars across the globe.

Now his book Mattters of Life and Death: Living with History in a Pandemic reflects on the connections between those conflicts, and the impacts of the pandemic on 21st century life.

He says that during Covid, as an eighty-something “at risk” man he found himself confined to his home – watching an eerily empty city, at a time when no one knew what the future would hold.

“Covid caused a lot of thought about the past and present for all of us, and that gave birth to my book,” he said.

“Being faced with possibility of having to say goodbye to this world, you think about what have you done in your life, what have you witnessed.”

Martin got into the world of film making with his first job – as a rewind boy at his local cinema in Middlesex in the 1950s rolling back reels of film.  

He finally broke into documentary and film making in the 60s, and found himself focusing on some of the darkest and most shocking events in British and international life.

As film editor he worked on Granada TV’s World in Action, and his first notable success as a director was in the acclaimed series The World at War. 

He made 18 films for Thames Television’s series This Week, including Death in the West’ – an expose of Philip Morris’s Marlboro advertising campaign.

His awards, as a director or producer, include an EMMY for Peace is at Hand, one of several films he made for the PBS/ATV series ‘Vietnam : A Television History’. 

His work as exhibition director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. resulted in a Design Award from President Bill Clinton.

Martin moved to Bristol 25 years ago.  His book looks at some of the historic wars and events of his working life, alongside 21st century events, like the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol.

“Colston is one of the big events of lockdown – news about it travelled wordwide and helped Black Lives Matter be heard across the world.

“To me being in Bristol and staying at home and seeing Colston demonstration when statue came down was shocking, I was pleased to see it came down, but it did change the world.Bristol is now called the Woke capital of the country, that spurred me on to find out more and research this book.”

He also reflects on other public protests through the decades. 

“I look at Extinction Rebellion today about the climate crisis, and that takes me back to my youth and the threat of nuclear war. I served two months in prion sewing mailbags after demonstrating outside an American war base in my 20s.”

“I have spent a lot of my film life on wars – perhaps too much time, but people wanted me to do them. I was driven to explore why these things happened and why people did these things, and bring it to the public attention.”

You can meet Martin and get a signed copy of his book at Max Minervas book shop in Henleaze Road on 24th August at 7pm. 

Martin’s book Matters of Life and Death is available from Amazon in hardback or Kindle version.