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Arena at 40

2015 marks Arena’s 40th year on air since the first episode was broadcast on 1st October 1975. This archive of over 600 films covers the broad scope of late 20th century culture all over the world, not only documenting the arts but leaving an original and indelible mark on the history of documentary filmmaking. Arena films are passionate and exuberant, combining deep reverence for the past with a genuine fascination with popular culture.

Arena has turned its unique eye to a wide array of topics, from the unashamed take on the enduring popularity of the song My Way, to an incisive analysis of nationalism through the journeys of four significant cultural and political figures – anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu, historian Eric Hobsbawm, author Maxine Hong Kingston, and political scientist Eqbal Admad – in the pioneering film Stories My Country Told Me.

From the first edition in 1975, which featured Laurence Olivier discussing the remarkable life of Lilian Baylis (the founder of the National Theatre) and David Hockney painting sets for the Stravinsky opera The Rake’s Progress at Glyndebourne, Arena has featured a wide range of significant cultural figures – Bob Dylan, Graham Greene, The Beatles, Andy Warhol, Nelson Mandela, Amy Winehouse and Harold Pinter to name a few. The progamme is similarly distinguished by an unbroken editorial and aesthetic sensibility, from Leslie Megahey, editor 1977-79, Alan Yentob 1979-1985, to Nigel Finch and Anthony Wall who took over in 1985 until Finch’s death in 1995, and Wall’s sole editorship to the present day.

Throughout its 40th year, Arena has a range of exciting broadcasts for BBC Four. This includes American Epic, a three part documentary series exploring how music was first recorded in America. Alongside this, American Epic: The Sessions will show performances from some of the worlds greatest artists who record their tracks on the original machine which was used to capture the sound of America for the first time in the 1920s. Artists include Elton John, Jack White, Nas, Stephen Stills, Los Lobos, Ana Gabriel, Alabama Shakes, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.

Other documentaries in production include a profile of legendary country music star Loretta Lynn, a film directed by Paul Tickell about the year 1966, and 'Shakespeare on Film', directed by David Thompson. Arena will also broadcast a film to celebrate the 40th anniversary, as well as a groundbreaking 24 hour documentary. 'Night and Day' runs continuously for 24 hours, presenting one unbroken account of a night and a day made exclusively from Arena's rich archive.