Acclaimed Scottish Filmmaker Bill Douglas Celebrated With New Premieres at Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival 2024

Bill travelling

Renowned Scottish filmmaker Bill Douglas to be celebrated with premieres at Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival

GFF24 hosts UK premiere of Jack Archer’s new documentary Bill Douglas: My Best Friend, charting the filmmaker’s extraordinary lifelong friendship with Peter Jewell, on 8 March

GSFF24 will open on 20 March with the first ever cinema screening of Bill’s amateur 8mm films shot in 1960s Soho, with a new live soundtrack by Scottish musician Gerard Black

The Life and Career of Bill Douglas

Bill travelling

The life and career of one of Scotland’s greatest filmmaking talents, the late Bill Douglas, will be celebrated with two major premieres at Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival this March.

Born into poverty in a Midlothian mining community in 1934, Bill Douglas became one of Scotland’s most celebrated film directors. In his short career Douglas made four films: an autobiographical trilogy about his difficult childhood—My Childhood, My Ain Folk and My Way Home—and Comrades, a transcontinental, visually stunning epic about the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Bill’s life was turned around in the Egyptian desert when, during National Service in the 1950s, he met the man who would become his lifelong companion, Peter Jewell. The two men came from very different backgrounds but they formed a unique bond that channelled a tremendous creative energy and lived together for over 30 years until Bill passed away from cancer in Peter’s North Devon hometown in 1991.

Bill Douglas: My Best Friend

Bill and Peter

Bill and Peter

Following rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival, Glasgow Film Festival will host the UK premiere of the story of this extraordinary friendship – Bill Douglas: My Best Friend. In Jack Archer’s moving documentary, Peter reminisces about the life he shared with Bill in their tiny Soho flat filled with cinema memorabilia. Their shared love of the movies led them to start experimenting with an 8mm camera and paved the way for Bill to attend film school and become one of the country’s most influential filmmakers, inspiring the likes of Lynne Ramsay (who compares Douglas to Tarkovsky). Peter’s memories and musings about the legacy Bill left behind and the intimacies, joys and complexities of male friendship are illustrated with never-seen-before clips from Bill and Peter’s amateur films from the 60s.

Glasgow Short Film Festival

Glasgow Short Film Festival is delighted to bring to a cinema screen, for the first time ever, six of these short films, charting Bill’s development as a filmmaker and storyteller exploring form and genre. Shot over a three year period in the mid-to-late sixties on the streets and rooftops of Soho, the films feature Bill and Peter’s friends and neighbours. It was Peter who gifted Bill his first Super 8 camera; he also appears in several of the films, and operated the camera when Bill himself was acting.

The Films

Woman. in the Park

Woman in the Park

The films include the Hitchcockian psycho-drama Woman in the Park, a metaphysical spy spoof The Water Cress File and Still Life, the story of a woman admitted into an asylum (as Bill’s own mother was), inspired by Peter’s work as a social worker. Five of the films are silent and will be accompanied by a new live score composed and performed by Scottish musician Gerard Black (Babe, Archipel, François & the Atlas Mountains). The final film, Small World, is a rare ‘talkie’ which shows Bill’s flair for dialogue; the dialogue has been transcribed from a now unuseable recording made at the time and re-recorded with a Glaswegian cast specially for this screening.

Water Cress

Water Cress

Glasgow Short Film Festival has a long-established relationship with Bill Douglas’s legacy, with its annual award for International Short Film at the festival named in his honour.

Jack Archer, Director Bill Douglas: My Best Friend, said: “Bill Douglas has inspired many contemporary voices in world cinema but remains undiscovered by mainstream audiences. The discovery of a treasure trove of his unseen films was incredibly exciting. Watching them was like flicking through Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook . They demonstrated not only his developing style and directors’ eye but also the impact his friend Peter Jewell had on his life and career. Meeting Peter it became clear that his telling of the story of their life together should be the centre of the film. Bill remains a huge part of his life even thirty years after his death. He still finds it hard to define their friendship, emphasising that it wasn’t a sexual one; “we never said I love you or anything like that” and yet it had a physical dimension, “we held hands, hugged and relied on one another.” Their friendship was Platonic in the true meaning of the term, a spiritual rather than physical relationship formed around an appreciation of culture and an obsession for cinema. As Peter himself says ‘Art is the only immortality”

Allison Gardner, CEO of Glasgow Film, said: “Glasgow Film Festival are delighted to host the UK premiere of Jack Archer’s fascinating new exploration of one of Scotland’s most revered 20th century filmmakers. Bill Douglas: My Best Friend is both a moving exploration of the friendship that shaped Bill’s life and a reminder of how his visionary and ambitious storytelling influenced a generation of filmmakers that followed in his footsteps, from Lynne Ramsay to Lenny Abrahamson. As the conversation around how working class people can build and sustain a career in the UK film industry becomes more pressing, Bill’s story and legacy is more timely than ever.”

Matt Lloyd, GSFF Director, said: “We secured Peter Jewell’s blessing to name our annual international competition in honour of Bill Douglas back in 2012, with the aim of introducing his work to a new generation of emerging Scottish film talent, as well as raising his profile internationally. So we were thrilled when researcher Andy Kimpton-Nye approached us with the promise of Bill’s as-yet unseen early filmmaking experiments. Although amateur home movies, these films chart the development of a true visionary finding his unique storytelling voice. As such they have a lot to teach and to encourage aspiring filmmakers, not to mention capturing fascinating vistas of Soho in the late 1960s.

“I’m particularly excited to be working with Alia Ghafar (Salt & Sauce, GSFF Scottish Short Film Award 2018) and sound designer William Aikman on creating a new dialogue track for Small World, and to be welcoming back Gerard Black to compose and perform a live score for the six films. Gerard previously scored three Dziga Vertov newsreels for us in 2022 – his sensitive approach breathed new life into works which could otherwise be challenging for modern viewers. We can’t wait to hear what he does with Bill’s Super 8 shorts.”

Bill Douglas: My Best Friend is produced by Hopscotch Films with funding from the National Lottery through Screen Scotland’s Film Development and Production Fund. Both Hopscotch Films and Screen Scotland also funded the digitisation of Bill’s amateur shorts.

GFF is one of the leading film festivals in the UK and is run by Glasgow Film, a charity which also runs Glasgow Film Theatre. Glasgow Film Festival is made possible by support from Screen Scotland, the BFI Audience Projects Fund, awarding National Lottery funding and Glasgow Life. GFF will celebrate its 20th edition from 28th February to 10th March this year, with the full festival programme revealed on 24th January. Tickets to all events will go on sale Monday 29th January.

Glasgow Short Film Festival runs from 20th – 24th March. Tickets for Bill Douglas: Unseen Super 8 go on sale Tuesday 16 January at and the full programme will be announced on 20th February.

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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