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Elia Kazan: The Actors’ Director

February–March 2020

Be awed by the brilliant performances that Kazan elicited throughout his directing career, in our two-month season featuring Brando, Dean, Hepburn, Kerr and many more.

Introduction by season programmer Geoff Andrew

Elia Kazan: The Actor’s Director


Part 1 (Feb)

‘Every word seemed not something memorised, but the spontaneous expression of an inner experience’
Elia Kazan on working with Brando

A pioneering figure in the American theatre, Elia Kazan was also one of the country’s most influential film directors.

After several years as an actor and director for the Group Theatre, Kazan directed a string of hits on Broadway and co-founded the Actors Studio, while establishing himself in Hollywood with a series of serious issue-driven dramas at Fox. Following his success with Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire on stage, he made a film of the play, and set about transforming the style and standard of screen acting in ambitious, provocative, sometimes ‘political’ movies centred on graduates of the Group Theatre and Actors Studio, many of whom he had effectively ‘discovered’. Even after he notoriously ‘named names’ during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, Kazan’s films remained prestigious and successful throughout the 50s. If their subject matter was unusually varied, the sheer force of his quest for emotional veracity was a constant.

Geoff Andrew

Part 2 (Mar)

‘His stories were a celluloid witness to his “lover’s quarrel with his country’
The New Yorker on Elia Kazan

In the second part of our Kazan retrospective, we see how the enormously successful director embarked on more personal work.

Even in his earlier films, Kazan tried, whenever possible, to engage with subjects to which he himself attached importance; the results, apart from radically transforming ideas about screen acting, were movies which for the most part examined issues relevant to American life and society – culminating in the politically explicit critique A Face in the Crowd. Thereafter, just as his films from Wild River onwards feel more expansive in terms of narrative and less closely focused on ‘the Method’, so they become more concerned, firstly, with the power and pitfalls of sexual desire, and, secondly (and not unrelatedly), with events and relationships drawn from Kazan’s own life. He mined both his own history and that of his family for material; indeed, his most openly biographical film, America, America, might be his masterpiece.

Geoff Andrew


See our screenings of A Streetcar Named Desire and our Big Screen Classics.

Visit our Collections Focus in the BFI Reuben Library in March.


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