BBC Arts has announced a raft of films for its flagship strand Arena on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer this spring, including films about iconic figures ranging from Little Richard and Karl Lagerfeld to Kae Tempest and Coco Chanel, alongside the Oscar-nominated acquisition All The Beauty and The Bloodshed.

Suzy Klein, Head of Arts and Classical Music TV said: “Arena is back with a focus on the icons, works, people and moments we think we all know, but where there are still rich and surprising stories to tell. I hope audiences will be as gripped by this latest series of films as we are, and I’m so proud to be working with some of the UK’s leading filmmakers at the height of their careers, championing the best of British documentary-making.:

Further commissions will be announced.

Mark Bell, Commissioning Editor, Arena, said: “Creativity is at the heart of Arena – and here we have some intriguing cultural subjects paired with a set of brilliant directors, and the resulting films are surprising, bold, and highly individual.”


Arena Films and production company credits

Little Richard: The King and Queen of Rock’n’Roll
Thrusting, fabulous and seemingly fearless, Little Richard can genuinely stake a claim on having invented rock ’n’ roll. A black artist who grew up in the segregated South, Richard Pennyman broke down barriers and took 1950s America by storm. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones supported him, and took inspiration from his musicianship and stagecraft. He went on to influence artists as diverse as David Bowie, Elton John, Michael Jackson and Prince.

But the inner conflict between his religious beliefs and the music style he pioneered – as well as his battles with his own sexuality – led Little Richard to quit rock ‘n’ roll not just once, but twice. He spent years feeling that his contribution to music had been overlooked in favour of white rock and roll stars like Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.

Featuring stellar interviewees, including Ringo Starr, Keith Richards, Nile Rodgers and Big Freedia, alongside intimate contributions from friends and bandmates and the never-before-broadcast words of Little Richard himself, this feature-length documentary tells the story of a roller-coaster life; of musical highs and knuckle-biting lows, and makes the case that Richard should be crowned the king – and queen – of rock ‘n’ roll.

Arena: Little Richard: The King and Queen of Rock’n’Roll was commissioned by Lorna Clarke, Director of Music, BBC for BBC Arena. A Minnow Films production for BBC and American Masters Pictures. Producers Joanna Boateng and Dearl Nelson, Editor Shane McCormack, Exec Prod Sophie Leonard, Director James House.

All the Beauty and The Bloodshed
An Oscar-nominated film from the award-winning director Laura Poitras, All the Beauty and The Bloodshed is an epic, emotional and interconnected story about internationally renowned artist and activist Nan Goldin. The story is told through her slideshows, intimate interviews, ground-breaking photography, and rare footage of her personal fight to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid overdose crisis.

Arena: All the Beauty and The Bloodshed is a BBC Arts acquisition. Executive Producers are Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann; Clare Carter, Alex Kwartler and Hayley Theisen. Producers are Howard Gertler, John Lyons, Goldin, Yoni Golijov and Poitras.

The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld
Black and white photo of Karl Lagerfeld getting out of a car
Karl Lagerfeld was the undisputed king of fashion for over 40 years. Instantly recognisable with his trademark sunglasses and silver ponytail, he transformed high fashion from a niche interest into blockbuster, dramatic entertainment.

But how many people ever really knew the true Karl Lagerfeld? The German-born designer was a charismatic showman, catching worldwide attention by being unpredictable and possessing an acid tongue. His personal life was as lavish as the catwalks he adorned; he earned millions, spent a fortune and frequently attracted controversy with his provocative pronouncements. And he surrounded himself with an extraordinary entourage of characters including his adored cat, Choupette. The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld, sees multi award-winning director Michael Waldman track down his inner circle of friends, foes and the loves of his life to find out who the man behind the sunglasses really was – and the legacy he leaves behind.

Arena: The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld is a Finestripe Production. The Executive Producer is Lorraine McKechnie, Editor is David G. Hill. It was commissioned for BBC Arts and BBC Two & iPlayer by Mark Bell.

Kae Tempest
Poet, rapper, playwright and recording artist Kae Tempest is one of the most viscerally exciting artists working in Britain today. They are the youngest ever recipient of the prestigious Ted Hughes prize and have been nominated for both Brit and Mercury music prizes.

This unique Arena film, shot over several years, gains a rare insight into their life and creative process.

Arena: Kae Tempest is made by Bohemia Films, Todd Austin is Producer, Directed by Emily McDonald and Executive Producer is Min Clough. It was commissioned for BBC Arts and BBC Two & iPlayer by Mark Bell.

Coco Chanel
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel transformed women’s fashion, a truly revolutionary designer whose influence is still evident today. Her designs called into question the role of women, sex and power, and ignited a whole new way of dressing. Yet her life remains shrouded in mystery.

Born into a rural peasant background in the 19th century and brought up in an orphanage run by nuns, Chanel went on to become one of the wealthiest woman of her age, through a combination of grit, graft and talent, arguably becoming the first ever influencer. She defied convention in her wardrobe and her personal life: notorious for the string of glamorous lovers and yet wary of telling her story.

This feature-length Arena documentary weaves together the story of Chanel’s creations – from the little black dress to the tweed suit and the iconic chain handbag – over the contours of her colourful life.

Arena: Coco Chanel is a A WhyNow Production. Produced and Directed by Hannah Berryman. Executive Producer is Janet Lee. It was commissioned for BBC Arts and BBC Two and iPlayer by Mark Bell.


Pippa Considine

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