Guardian Cottons on to Sandwiches

One of the Guardian’s leading feature writers Sam Knight has inked a long article about the significance of sandwiches to Britain’s society and economy. The paper is a mere seven years behind me! In 2010 I made a film about sandwiches for my series “What Brits Love.” You can buy the DVD of my series here on this website.

As Mr Knight wisely observes:

British sandwich-makers are sought-after across Europe, and invited to places like Russia and the Middle East to advise on everything from packaging and production lines to “mouth feel” and cress. “In Saudi Arabia they absolutely love the story of the Earl, the scoundrel,” one factory owner told me. And during weeks of reporting for this article, I didn’t come across one person who doubted that the long boom would continue for years to come. “It’s big. We all do it. And we do it a lot, is our summary of the market,” said Martin Johnson, the chief executive of Adelie Foods, a major supplier of coffee shops and universities.


Ian Hislop’s Workers and Shirkers

This is a bit of a belated post. I made a film with Ian Hislop for Wingspan Productions and BBC2 a while back about the history of unemployment benefits, “Workers or Shirkers: Ian Hislop’s Victorian Benefits,” mostly looking at Victorian material.

The interview with Iain Duncan Smith went viral because he “cried” on camera – you can judge the sincerity of the tears for yourself 🙂 For this film, I dived deep in libraries to find visually engaging moments from a complex history – like the black beggar from the Ludgate Circus in eighteenth century London, and the absorbing articles byBritain’s first undercover reporter, James Greenwood, brought to life in the spectacular Linley Sanborne House in Kensington… not forgetting the first female minister in Britain, Margaret Bondfield. I and the DOP Jamie Gramston developed a very fluid PTC style, choreographing the present’s moves to take advantage of atmospheric natural light effects.



The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels features in Broadcast, British Media Industry Journal

‘The Beatles Hippies and Hells Angels’ was the subject of a feature of Broadcast, the British television industry journal.

I couldn’t believe my luck when Jago Lee asked me to make a film telling the inside story of Apple Corps, the fashion and music company set up by the Beatles. It took me a nanosecond to perform the necessary risk-assessment calculation any director does before accepting an offer.

As to whether the result would be any good, one has to imagine in advance what you will and won’t get from a film like this.

There were significant known obstacles. We were almost certain not to get the co-operation of the surviving Beatles, nor Apple, which would mean no original Beatles recordings or performances.

They like to control their story editorially, and take the profits that come from telling it. But I have never liked ‘authorised’ docs, as they always lack an edge.

And Apple Corps is not quite the same as the Beatles – it is probably the one chapter in their story you could tell without featuring the band’s music.

The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels

Apple Corps had a fashion store, an electronics department, a poetry label and a record label, featuring artists signed by the Beatles. Much of the label’s music, by artists like Badfinger and Jackie Lomax, could be used freely under Sky’s blanket music agreement.

As we entered the research and scripting phase, I quickly settled on telling a mix of stories about the company while leaving the Beatles themselves on the side. Interviews could be a problem, but as Apple had employed around 50 staff, I hoped that a decent number of them would talk.

As it turned out, the surviving top tier of management did not agree to be interviewed – at least one of them put in a call to Apple first to see what their position was. But many colourful people from the lower levels – engineers, assistants and secretaries – wanted to tell their story.

In fact, the co-operation of some of them had already been secured in the development phase. Many more were eventually persuaded to take part, sometimes over months, by producer Tom Jenner and assistant producer Gurbir Dillon.

In any case, there was already a film in the works about the Beatles: Ron Howard’s Eight Days A Week. We needed a bigger message to make the film feel epic and important.

This was to be both a kind of coming-of- age film and a doc about the perks and pitfalls of hippie-dom. The characters – by which I mean my interviewees – experienced a brush with fame in which, at least partly, their idealised images of the Beatles fell away. The band themselves discovered the pitfall of being a rich hippie: that your friends take advantage of you.

Peace and love

The historical story was the hippie movement of the late 1960s – this naive peace-and-love moment that led to disillusionment.

It had a simple narrative arc, as long as one juggled the chronology a bit: Apple was launched and moved in phases from disorganised optimism to weird anarchy. There was a climax to this process – a Christmas party during which a Hells Angel swung a punch at John Lennon.

After that, the Beatles brought in a tough new manager, downsized Apple, dumped the hippie ethos and then the band split up.

Finally, the film has a journalistic ‘revelation’: people say that the Beatles split because of friction involving Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney. In fact, it was the termination of Apple’s hippie multi-media ethos by manager Allen Klein that led Paul McCartney to pull out of the band and thereby end it.

It seems that about five or six weeks into any production, I always find out a couple of odd things I didn’t expect, which can transform a film. Here, we found a couple of amazing archives of photos taken inside and outside the Apple offices from 1969, only around five or six of which had been seen more widely since the 1960s.

All of my main interviewees were in these photos. What a godsend.

The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels

Another was that legendary San Francisco hippie, actor and voiceover artist Peter Coyote had visited Apple in 1968 with some Hells Angels friends and gone to their infamous Christmas party.

My execs really wanted a witty charismatic voiceover. I had used one in my recent film Chancers, which Jago had seen, and which persuaded him to hire me for this.

Generally, I am not a big fan of voiceover – it is usually only there so TV viewers can still hear the story while they make a cup of tea, and few good documentaries use it – but I had always wondered if there was a way to make it good and imaginative. After all, it works in my two favourite films: Taxi Driver and The Big Lebowski.

So I settled on Coyote as an interviewee- protagonist-narrator. He frames the whole film and delivers the historical and universal message of the film, one he has lived out and believes in.

I wrote a list of plot points and tried to get every interviewee to tell us how they were involved.

When I rolled into the edit, I had 20 interviews, heaps of archive, hundreds of photos and some live performances to wrangle into a coherent 90-minute narrative. It was an enormous jigsaw and I was lucky that the Sky commissioning editor James Quinn and my producers were patient with me.

The edit is always a chance to take the film onto another level creatively. I brought on board Dutch New York-based animator Fons Schiedon, with whom I had previously worked on the Peabody Award-winning Poor Us.

The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels

Fons and I developed a green apple space-ship that floats and wobbles through the film, a bit like the yellow submarine. Devices like this help to create an intense, almost dreamlike, effect, immediately placing the viewer amid their Beatles memories.

Animation also helped because the main action scenes in this story were neither filmed nor photographed, and I needed to show them and make them exciting.

The archive caused some headaches. The Beatles have a performers’ copyright claim on any press conferences they were in. We needed a couple of clips of them as well as a few seconds of the Apple-produced Magical Mystery Tour to review and criticise.

Sky bravely agreed to accept a small amount of fair-dealing so we could use some archive, which was essential for the story.

Finally, there was the score. I wanted something contemporary and trippy with Beatles-esque motifs. “The Mad Professor meets the Fab Four,” I said to composer Adem Ilhan, who duly obliged.

We combined his score with obscure but brilliant covers of Beatles songs. I had always loved The Crusaders’ jazz take on Hey Jude and The Meters doing Come Together, but Bill Frisell’s version of Across The Universe was a revelation.

What a pleasure it was to lift the audio and hear him strumming “nothing’s gonna change my world”, over photos of Apple’s spaced-out employees, pupils dilated, staring at budgerigars or crashed out on the office sofas.

A Bankers Guide to Art

Here is the documentary I made for BBC4 last year with the help of my esteemed colleague Dimitri Collingridge. It’s an ironic look at the art market full of interviews with insiders, contextualised within the history of the art market. Interviewees include Adam Lindemann, Kenny Schachter, Georgina Adam and Jeffrey Archer. It’s a bit sound-bite heavy. Sorry limited budget on this one! There were a few articles linked to this film in which Kenny Schachter did not mince his words about the art market.

The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels premieres at DOC NYC

My latest film ‘The Beatles, Hippies and Hells Angels’ gets its US premiere next Tuesday at DOCS NYC. It’s the story of the chapter of their life the Beatles would rather no one told: the unauthorised story of the Beatles Apple Corps, with unseen archive photos, interviews with former employees and signed acts speaking for the first time and amazing animation from my  soul brother, Fons Schiedon. The film also features special performances by Brute Force, Black Dyke Mills Band and Joey Molland from Badfinger. If you are in New York next Tues or Weds, come to a screening!

It’s 1967 and the Beatles face a major problem: they are the most famous, commercially successful band ever, but their tax bills could bankrupt them. Their answer is to invest their money in a new company, Apple Corps.

Today Apple Corps mostly just runs the Beatles back catalogue, but for five glorious years in the late sixties, it was one of the most colourful, outlandish and chaotic companies that ever existed. The Beatles set up a fashion shop, hair dressing salon, tech start-up (Apple before Apple), poetry division, film production department and of course their own record label. The idea was to spread the values of the new Hippie movement around the world. But things will go wrong, if you drop acid during office hours…. In this unauthorised film, the true story behind Apple, an unrepeatable experiment in Hippie Capitalism is told for the first time, by the people who worked for the company, from record label executives and the Beatles personal assistants to the office boys and secretaries. Their inside stories are illustrated by never-before-seen archives of photographs taken in Apple’s offices, plus specially-commissioned animation and rare archive footage. What emerges is a comic cautionary tale about the peaks and pitfalls of Hippie-dom. As Beatles longtime assistant Tony Bramwell says “How can you be a Hippie, when you are earning a million pounds a week?”

The film is narrated by the legendary counterculture San Francisco activist, actor and author Peter Coyote, who visited Apple Corps with the Hells Angels in Xmas 1967.

The film is distributed by Red Arrow Entertainment.

New Yorker files long article on Falciani based on Documentary

“Georgina Mikhael has said that Falciani’s overtures to foreign governments were simply a hedge on his efforts to sell the data: if he failed to make a deal with a bank, he would seek a buyer in the intelligence community. He was aware that Germany had paid millions to the leaker from L.G.T. Group, the Liechtenstein bank. In “Falciani’s Tax Bomb,” a 2015 documentary by the British filmmaker Ben Lewis, Mikhael says that it was the Liechtenstein deal that “gave him the idea to sell the data to secret services.” Of course, someone can have a desire to expose wrongdoing and also want to be rewarded for histrouble. Government agreements with whistle-blowers often look morally confused. In 2009, Bradley Birkenfeld, the American banker who leaked documents about illegal activity at U.B.S., was sent to prison for his role in the conspiracy. He served two and a half years. (Though U.B.S. paid a fine, no other executive went to jail for the misconduct that Birkenfeld exposed.) Upon Birkenfeld’s release, he received a government reward of a hundred and four million dollars—the largest ever paid by the I.R.S.”

The New Yorker published a long article on Falciani’s whistleblowing activities last week. Written by veteran journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, the article features quotes from Ben Lewis’ documentary ‘Falciani’s Tax Bomb’. It also strangely bares the original title he suggested for the film which was rejected by producers and broadcasters ‘Bankrobber’

Join us at the The Colour of Money Festival

The Barbican Centre has continued it’s legacy of putting on challenging events, with The Colour of Money Festival coming to its screens between 10-20th of September.

Audiences will be promoted to explore the almost omnipotent presence of money and finance across the ten days, from cult classics to less known documentaries, and a bit of everything in between.

Here at BLTV we are delighted to have been invited to provide a screening of Ben’s financial expose ‘Falciani’s Tax Bomb’ with a ScreenTalk afterwards. It’s an exciting opportunity to tell the story of Falciani’s turbulent story amongst such a broad array of critical films, with Dawn of the Dead showing later in the evening.

BLTV’s documentary cover’s Falciani who has been described as the “Edward Snowden of the banking world” and is currently wanted for arrest for exposing HSBC’s tax fraud.

We hope to see you there to discuss the role of finance and accountability in the present day, and hear your thoughts on our film.

The screening will take place at 6.15 on the 14th of September with tickets available now which you can pick up here:


Falciani’s Tax Bomb reviewed in German newspaper

Have a read of this piece that reviews two documentaries, including ‘Falciani’s Tax Scandal’.

It discusses the recent film by John Kantara about financial fraud in Germany alongside Ben Lewis’ documentary about the prolific HSBC tax scandal, revealed by Herve Falciani.

Here it is:

I hope you caught the investigative documentaries screening. If not, don’t fret, as we’l keep you posted on future screenings.


Falciani’s Tax Bomb coming to German TV channels

Documentary film has long been a powerful means of drawing attention to abuses of power. The new film by Ben Lewis, Falciani’s Tax Bomb, will be continuing this tradition on the German television channel Arte this June.

In the midst of the global tremors of the 2007 financial crisis, for those at HSBC it must have seemed that their part to play was going to go unnoticed. However, in late 2008 documents were leaked that exposed a long list of illegal activities including HSBC’s assistance in withholding $204.5 billion in assets from international tax authorities.

We are increasingly reliant on whistle-blowers for exposing abuses of power, and Ben’s documentary takes the audience deep into the HSBC scandal and its key players. In a similar fashion to the highly acclaimed documentary Citizenfour, Falciani’s Tax Bomb tells the story of the “Snowden of the financial world”, Herve Falciani.

To see Falciani’s Tax Bomb, you can catch its television début on Arte on the following dates:

Tuesday, June 23 at 20:15

Friday, 26 June at 20:55

Tuesday, 30 June at 20:55

Falciani’s Tax Bomb at Film Festivals in Sheffield, Barcelona and Munich.

With whistle-blowing and global finance remaining as challenging issues, BLTV’s most recent investigative documentary Falciani’s Tax Bomb made its timely German première with Q&A at DokFest Munich, followed by screenings at Sheffield Doc/Fest and DocsBarcelona this May and June.

Festival-goers gained an inside-look into the controversy over banking privacy and tax evasion after the watershed data theft by HSBC banker, Herve Falciani.

This film goes into the story of 2008 when the former employee of HSBC stole over 300,000 bank accounts and distributed them to tax authorities worldwide, shaking the foundations of the global finance industry.

With direct access to Falciani, often described as the Snowden of the banking world,  Ben and the team explore the context of his actions and the turbulent consequences that ensued.

If you missed it, don’t worry, as we will be releasing it soon on DVD and Itunes.

In the meantime, you can check out the trailer.

Q&A in Munich

Munich Premiere