Screened as part of NZIFF 2008

Derek 2008

Directed by Isaac Julien

A moving celebration of the life of pioneering gay filmmaker Derek Jarman (Jubilee, Caravaggio, Blue), featuring copious film extracts and the reflections of former muse Tilda Swinton.

UK In English
76 minutes 35mm



Tilda Swinton


Nina Kellgren


Adam Finch


Simon Fisher Turner


Sundance, Berlin 2008


This wonderful, moving celebration of the work and life of pioneering gay British filmmaker Derek Jarman (Jubilee, Caravaggio, Edward II, Blue) was sensitively assembled by another pioneering gay British filmmaker, Isaac Julien (Looking for Langston, Young Soul Rebels). Julien has the good sense and good taste to step back and let Jarman tell his own story, through a lively, expansive 1991 interview conducted with Colin McCabe and copious extracts from Jarman's private and public movies.  Even there, the boundaries are blurred, as many of those home movies had already been co-opted for Jarman's feature films.

Jarman's former muse and recent Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton is also on board, contributing her 2002 ‘Letter to an Angel', an emotional, intelligent personal reflection which she reads over footage of her wandering around Derek's old haunts, now unrecognisable, buried by gleaming new buildings.  Another key Jarman collaborator, composer Simon Fisher Turner, is also on hand to revisit and celebrate their work together.

Having a subject with such a well-documented life is a gift for a filmmaker – alongside the films are diaries, snapshots, artworks and working papers galore – but it also presents an enormous challenge to Julien, who miraculously manages to distill the potential spawl into 76 cool, calm minutes, without any sense of awkward cramming or excessive elision. Derek is an object lesson in how to make a film biography, and the most important thing you take away from it is a concentrated dose of Jarman's personality, larger than life and brimming with creative energy - even fourteen years after his death. — AL

This is what I miss, now that there are no more Derek Jarman films: the mess, the cant, the poetry, Simon Fisher Turner's music, the real faces, the intellectualism, the bad-temperedness, the good-temperedness, the cheek, the standards, the anarchy, the romanticism, the classicism, the optimism, the activism, the glee, the bumptiousness, the resistance, the wit, the fight, the colours, the grace, the passion, the beauty. — Tilda Swinton, ‘Letter to an Angel'