Glasgow Film Festival and GSFF team up to celebrate Bill Douglas

One of Scotland’s greatest filmmakers, Bill Douglas, will receive much love at the upcoming Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival, as GFF hosts new documentary Bill Douglas: My Best Friend while GSFF opens with some of Douglas's 8mm shorts

Article by Jamie Dunn | 16 Jan 2024
  • Bill Douglas and Peter Jewell

The late Bill Douglas has a good claim to being Scotland’s best-ever filmmaker but there’s still a feeling that his small body of work is underseen in his homeland. Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival will certainly be trying to right this wrong with screenings celebrating Douglas’s life and his artistry. 

Glasgow Film Festival will be paying their respects with the UK premiere of Jack Archer’s new documentary Bill Douglas: My Best Friend, which charts Douglas’s lifelong friendship with Peter Jewell. To make the film, Archer drew inspiration from the 8mm home movies that Douglas would make on his travels with Jewell. "Bill Douglas has inspired many contemporary voices in world cinema but remains undiscovered by mainstream audiences," says Archer. "The discovery of a treasure trove of his unseen films was incredibly exciting. Watching them was like flicking through Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook."

Allison Gardner, the CEO of Glasgow Film and director of GFF, is looking forward to this UK premiere. "Bill Douglas: My Best Friend is both a moving exploration of the friendship that shaped Bill’s life," she says, "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." You can find out more about Bill Douglas: My Best Friend in our interview with Archer.

Bill Douglas and Peter Jewell sitting on plastic chairs on a rooftop.
Bill Douglas (left) and Peter Jewell (right)

Many of the 8mm short films that inspired Archer's documentary can be seen on the opening night of the Glasgow Short Film Festival. Among them are a couple of spoofs: there's the Hitchcockian psycho-drama Woman in the Park and a metaphysical spy film – presumably riffing on The Ipcress File – called The Water Cress File. Also in the lineup is the more personal Still Life, which tells the story of a woman admitted into an asylum (as Douglas’s own mother was). Jewell's work as a social worker also inspired the film. 

Glasgow Short Film Festival has a long-established connection with Bill Douglas, given that its annual award for International Short Film is named in his honour. Peter Jewell even attended the festival over a decade ago to hand out the first Bill Douglas awards. "We secured Peter’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," says GSFF's director Matt Lloyd. "So we were thrilled when researcher Andy Kimpton-Nye approached us with the promise of Bill’s as-yet unseen early filmmaking experiments."

Still from Women in the Park (Bill Douglas)

Most of the films are silent, so GSFF has commissioned Scottish musician Gerard Black (of Babe, Archipel, François & the Atlas Mountains fame) to compose scores for the films, which he will perform live at the opening. One of the 8mm films, Small World, did have recorded dialogue, but unfortunately the recording is now degraded. As way of compensation, GSFF has asked Alia Ghafar (who won GSFF's Scottish Short Film Award in 2018 for Salt & Sauce) and sound designer William Aikman to create a new dialogue track especially for this screening, which has been rerecorded with a Glaswegian cast. 

Lloyd reckons that greenhorn filmmakers in particular will get a lot out of Douglas's 8mm films. "Although amateur home movies, these films chart the development of a true visionary finding his unique storytelling voice," he says. "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."

Glasgow Film Festival runs from 28 Feb to 10 Mar, with the full programme released 24 Jan. Tickets go on sale 29 Jan

Glasgow Short Film Festival runs from 20-24 Mar. Tickets for Bill Douglas: Unseen Super 8 go on sale today at; the full GSFF programme is due on 20 Feb