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Glasgow Film Festival 2024: Bill Douglas – My Best Friend ★★★★



Released: 2024

Director: Jack Archer

Scottish director Bill Douglas left a huge mark on the UK cinematic landscape, despite only releasing four films, including his acclaimed trilogy focusing on his childhood in the mining village of Newcraighall, near Edinburgh. The new film Bill Douglas – My Best Friend dissects Douglas’ life through the relationship to his closest friend Peter Jewell whose own life and family in Barnstaple, Devon, heavily influenced Douglas.

It is a beautiful meditative reflection on the power of friendship and the beauty of art. Whilst also acting as a retrospective of Douglas’ work and the trials and tribulations he went through to make avant-garde films that remain influential today, including the 3-hour epic Comrades. In many ways this is a critique of the filmmaking process in the UK. How many of our most talented directors aren’t allowed to make work that should be heard and seen by millions, with a large segment being devoted to his collaborations with the BFI.

This is a fascinating time capsule of Douglas’ childhood and first interactions with Jewell, through to the creation of his seminal works. We follow a fascinating, albeit brief glimpse at swinging 60s Soho through the lens of Douglas, Jewell and those around them, showing how the UK art scene was evolving and the formative influence this had on a young Douglas, ripe for moulding.

It stands as a moving portrait of a talented artist, even for those who might not have seen his films, although the connection will be deepened by links to his work. Douglas’ legacy is obvious, with insights from current filmmakers like Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room) and Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here).

It is clear how much Douglas meant to Jewell, the pair are almost inseparable and remained friends for all their adult lives. We get a sense of how much Douglas loved the film and his legacy as a collector of memorabilia from across the arts, now part of the Bill Douglas Museum. What this film ultimately proves is that despite a relatively small body of work, Douglas should be discussed more widely among the greats of British Cinema.

Bill Douglas – My Best Friend is a unique documentary that dives deep into its subject matter in quite a short span of time, covering decades but feeling intimate all the while. Over 30 years on from his death, it’s obvious how influential Douglas remains and we can only hope this film opens up his work to a whole new audience.

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