A major new documentary about the importance of friendship to the career of Bill Douglas featuring never-seen-before work by the pioneering filmmaker will premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week.
Bill Douglas My Best Friend, due to be shown on September 5, details the friendship between filmmaker Bill Douglas and Peter Jewell and charts the influence of their life together on his career.
It features the home movies they made together, which were made between 1966 and 1969 before Bill attended the London Film School, using a camera Peter had given him as a present for Christmas in 1965. The footage includes fascinating details of life in Soho in the 1960s, as well as holidays and Bill’s first attempts at making fiction films in different styles featuring his friends.
The films are now part of the thousands of artefacts held by the University of Exeter’s Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, the UK’s leading museum dedicated to the moving image. The museum was founded from the huge collection of cinema and optical media ephemera that Bill and Peter had collected together and was gifted to the University by Peter after Bill’s death. It also holds Bill’s working papers on his career.
The pair had met while doing their National Service in the RAF in Egypt, and this is documented in Bill’s third film My Way Home. As well as working as a social worker all his life Peter, who is based in Barnstaple, acted as Bill’s script editor, as well as providing emotional support. The pair were friends for four decades before Bill’s death.
Interviewees include Peter, Bill Douglas Cinema Museum curator Dr Phil Wickham and filmmakers Lynne Ramsay and Lenny Abrahamson, who discuss Bill’s unique style and its influence on their work. The documentary also features interviews with those who collaborated with Bill on his films.
Dr Wickham said: “It was great to be involved in this documentary, and we wish it every success at the Venice Film Festival. It gives a brilliant insight into the importance of Peter’s friendship to Bill’s career. The 8mm films are fascinating. They show how Bill was playing around with ideas and finding his poetic style, developing his technique and talent.”
Peter Jewell said: “It is appropriate the documentary will be shown at the festival, as Bill won the Silver Lion there 51 years ago with his film My Childhood, the first part of a trilogy based on his deprived upbringing near Edinburgh. Bill was my very best friend and our friendship created the collection that became the museum. The collection was as much a part of his art as his filmmaking and we wanted to share it with everyone else. I’m exhilarated to see our lives on screen in this documentary”.
The documentary is directed by Jack Archer and made by Hopscotch Films in Glasgow. It was originally developed by filmmaker Andy Kimpton-Nye and Jack was assisted in the filming by former University of Exeter student Dan McKay who graduated last year. The documentary includes filming in the museum of the collection Bill and Peter built together.
You can find out more about the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, which is the leading museum of moving image history in the UK, at www.bdcmuseum.org.uk
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