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The making of Cabot

The film's title card. Who really found the place we call the USA? In Bristol the claims of Columbus are disregarded. We know another Italian-born seafarer made the trip from our own city ... a man called John Cabot ("cab-oh").

Bristol Film and Video Society has made the only dramatised documentary on John Cabot's voyage of discovery on the Matthew in 1497. This costume drama, shot at historical locations in Bristol and its surroundings, has a cast of 120 drawn from amateur drama groups throughout the area. The stunning result is available from the IAC Film & Video library (tape V165).  It won an IAC Gold Seal, the Best Club Award 1997 and a special award for Alan Moore's narration.  It was directed by Graham Egarr and Mike George.

Robert dictates his memoirs.

'In my youth I sailed with the greatest explorer of them all - John Cabot'

Cabot's audience with the Doge.

'... are you prepared to back me so that Venice will remain a great trading city - or shall I be forced to take my ideas elsewhere?'

The video tells the story as seen through the eyes of a fictitious young Bristol seaman who went on the 1497 voyage.  It opens with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, moves to medieval Venice, London, Bristol and aboard the 'Matthew' as Cabot battles with an unruly crew and storms at sea before landing in the New World. The story ends with the unexplained disappearance of Cabot and his small fleet of ships on his return voyage to the "New Founde Lands" in 1498.

Although only a few contemporary accounts of the voyage have survived, the screen play incorporates all the known facts together with others of a general historical context and includes passing references to printing, Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance, and the underlying religious problems of the time. Also included are the main legends/myths about lands to the West. The video should therefore prove an invaluable reference to teachers.

King Henry VIII.

'.. give this Cabot his letters patent, and send him to Bristol.'

Cabot and crew arrive at the New Found Land.

'We erect this standard in honour of King Henry, and declare his dominion over this new found land.'

The stills show the sumptuous production values obtained. By presenting the story as a series of tableaux or short scenes events are shown speedily and actors are not overtaxed.  There is little evidence on screen that the group lacked a Hollywood budget.   To compliment the film, a booklet of background notes has been produced, which provides general information about the period, the story and characters.

Cabot was made as a community production by BRISTOL FILM AND VIDEO SOCIETY, a long established group of amateur film makers, with the help of very many other people; amateur actors, owners of historic buildings, boatmen, model makers, costumes and props makers. All the people who took part did so as volunteers. Nobody was paid for taking part.

Still from the film.

'.. and you, Robert, will teach Sebastian the rudiments of navigation and the skills of a sailor.'

BVFS on the set.

The film crew at work.

Cast of 121 drawn from Amateur Drama Societies and Clubs in the Bristol area
42 of the cast had a speaking role in the film
A total of 63 filming sessions were held
50 different locations were used including:

Bristol Film & Video Society's website.

My thanks to the club for answering my pleas for stills and additional background material. This remains one of my top ten films (including commercial movies) and is a staggering achievement.  Hire it and weep! - Dave Watterson .

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Page updated on 08 October 2011
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