Unseen work by influential director Bill Douglas to get first cinema screening in Scotland half a century after being made
They have been hailed as the Scottish cinematic equivalent of “flicking through Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks” – but were dismissed as unwatchable by their creator.
The “home movies” created by Bill Douglas with a film-making kit given to him by his best friend on Christmas Day would pave the way for him to realise his dreams of becoming a filmmaker.
But the short films made in the 1960s on the streets and rooftops of Soho, where Douglas shared a flat with Peter Jewell, have remained unseen for more than half a century after being shown to their friends and neighbours in late 1960s London – until now.
Decades after being hidden away inside a shopping bag, the mini-movies are to get their first ever cinema screening as part of a coming celebration of the work of Midlothian-born Douglas, which will also include the UK premiere of a new documentary about the filmmaker, his legacy and influence, and his friendship with Jewell.
Bill Douglas: My Best Friend will be screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival line-up in March, while the first ever cinematic screening of the restored short films will open the Glasgow Short Film Festival later in the month.
Douglas and Jewell, who met in Egypt in 1954 while serving for the RAF, quickly bonded over a mutual love of cinema. They would go on to share a flat in London, where they began collecting film ephemera from secondhand book shops, antique shops and markets. However, it was a Christmas gift from Jewell – an 8mm camera – that was to get Douglas’s filmmaking career up and running, with 20 short films being made over the next three years.
He would find most success with a trilogy of films in the 1970s – My Childhood, My Ain Folk and My Way Home – but had his career cut short by a cancer diagnosis. He died in 1991 at the age of 57.
The Bill Douglas Museum at Exeter University, where much of the collection amassed by Douglas and Jewell was donated to, has worked with filmmaker Andy Kimpton-Nye to restore the short films.
Jewell told The Scotsman: “They are literally home movies which were shot for fun with our friends and neighbours. There was never any intention that they would be shown publicly.
“I hadn’t seen them myself for more than 50 years after they were made. We gave away the equipment we had to an old folks’ centre to see if they wanted to make their own movies. We wouldn’t have been able to view them even if we had wanted to, but Bill had got into film school by 1969 and had moved on to better things.
"I kept the films in a cupboard in an old shopping bag, wondering what to do with them. To be honest, I think Bill would have preferred them to have been destroyed.
“If the subject of them ever cropped up, he had dismissed them as ‘total rubbish’ that taught him what not to do.”
Matt Lloyd, director of the Glasgow Short Film Festival, said: “We were thrilled when 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."
Jack Archer, director of the documentary, 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.”
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