Colin MacCabe’s Film, Derek, to Show in Berlin After Sundance Premiere

Issue Date: 
January 28, 2008

Derek, a documentary film produced by University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor of English and Film Colin MacCabe, will be screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. The film premiered Jan. 19 in the world documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival, held annually in Park City, Utah.

A tribute to British independent filmmaker Derek Jarman, the film was written and is narrated by internationally acclaimed actress Tilda Swinton; directed by Isaac Julien, a 2006 visiting Andrew Mellon Professor in Pitt’s Department of English in the School of Arts and Sciences; and produced, in addition to MacCabe, by Julien and Eliza Mellor.

The description from the Sundance Web site reads: “Derek is a glorious, yet fitting remembrance of one of independent film’s greatest treasures, Derek Jarman. It is lovingly crafted by filmmaker and friend Isaac Julien, who assembles a moving collage of rare home movies, film clips, and interviews, and a cinematic love letter from actress Tilda Swinton. Her input serves as the poetic overlay telling the whole truth about the life Jarman led, and the cultural abyss left by his absence.”

In 2006, Swinton visited Pitt for a screening and discussion of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), in which she starred as the witch. During her appearance, she, MacCabe, and Julien also participated in a dialogue and Pitt’s Film Studies Program screened Jarman’s Edward II (1991). The visit was a crucial part of the planning of Derek, said MacCabe.

Swinton began working with Jarman after a stint with the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company in 1983 and had a starring role in his film Caravaggio, in 1986, which MacCabe executive produced. She worked for Jarman for the next seven years, concluding with her role in Edward II. Following Jarman’s death in 1994 and the birth of her children, Swinton withdrew from acting, but returned to the screen in 1998 in Love Is the Devil, directed by John Maybury. In 2005, Swinton played Penny in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers and housewife Audrey Cobb in the Mike Mills film adaptation of the novel Thumbsucker, in addition to her role in The Chronicles of Narnia. This year, her role as Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton earned her nominations for best supporting actress in the Golden Globes, the Oscars, and the British Academy of Film and Television.

MacCabe teaches literature and film at Pitt. His research interests include a history of English since 1500, psychoanalysis, James Joyce, and linguistics. MacCabe is the author of James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word (Palgrave, 2002, 2nd edition), Godard: Portrait of the Artist at 70 (Bloomsbury, 2002), and Diary of a Young Soul Rebel (British Film Institute, 1991) with Julien. MacCabe also edits the journal Critical Quarterly. His most recent books are T.S. Eliot (The British Council, 2006) and The Butcher Boy (Irish Film Institute, 2007).

A former head of research at the British Film Institute in London, MacCabe worked with Jarman on his award-winning Caravaggio. MacCabe’s A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, a 1995 documentary on the history of American cinema, was the centerpiece of a 16-part history of world cinema titled 100 Years of Cinema. In 2005, MacCabe co-organized and coproduced a world premiere media installation of the latest work by French filmmaker Chris Marker at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

MacCabe worked with Julien on the Cannes prize-winning Young Soul Rebels (1991), and when MacCabe set up his own production company, Minerva Pictures, in 1998, one of his major ambitions was to get Julien working for the cinema again. The first result of this was the hit Baadasssss Cinema (Independent Film Channel, 2002).

During Julien’s visit to Pitt for the James Snead Conference in March 2003, MacCabe showed Julien footage from a daylong interview that he had recorded with Jarman in October 1990, to be used after Jarman’s death. According to MacCabe, Julien was entranced by the possibilities that the project offered. “It combined art and film, television and cinema, and it demanded a fine and detailed construction of a mosaic, which would also be the simple story of a life,” said Julien. “I felt that this film was what I had been moving towards for 20 years. I could use all my artistic investigations of color and form in this bricolage of formats. But I could also use my experiments in documentary and fiction to tell a story.”

MacCabe received a grant of $1,060,000 in 2007 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom to fund his research project, “Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire.” With the award, MacCabe will catalogue a collection of more than 6,000 British films from pre-1900 productions to television-era programming.

Julien was born in London, where he lives and works. A 1984 graduate of St Martin’s School of Art, Julien studied painting and fine art film. He founded Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and was a founding member of Normal Films in 1999.

Julien was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 for his films The Long Road to Mazatlán (1999), made in collaboration with Javier de Frutos, and Vagabondia (2000), choreographed by de Frutos. Earlier works include Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1996), the acclaimed poetic documentary Looking for Langston (1989), and Young Soul Rebels. In 2001, he received the prestigious MIT Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts and in 2003 won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kunstfilm Biennale in Cologne for his single screen version of Baltimore.