Filmmaker and artist Duncan Campbell works in many ways including constructing documentary-like narratives from archival footage. He often builds up profiles of significant public figures, while interspersing found film with material he shoots himself. In several of his films Campbell has investigated subjects and people closely associated with Northern Ireland and the country’s social and political history, revealing a side to the subject not commonly portrayed in the mainstream media.
Campbell’s 37-minute film Bernadette (2008) portrays socialist and former Northern Irish MP Bernadette Devlin during the 1960s and 1970s. When elected at the age of twenty-one, Devlin became the youngest female Member of Parliament ever to have been elected to Westminster. Campbell’s depiction of Devlin reveals the dynamics of documentary filmmaking itself. He blurs fact and fiction and mixes archival and new footage to construct and unravel representations of his subject. Making use of the distance that the passage of time allows, he creates a portrait of Devlin that is free from the political partisanship that has surrounded many depictions of her. To similar effect, John DeLorean (1925–1975) – the maker of the DeLorean car, famous to most through its appearance in the 1985 feature film Back to the Future – is the subject of Make It New John (2009). Campbell’s film follows DeLorean through childhood to the events surrounding the production of the infamous car in Northern Ireland and the factory’s subsequent closure in 1982.
The starting point for Campbell’s recent film It for others (2013) was the French filmmakers Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’s early collaboration Les Statues meurent aussi (Statues also Die) from 1953. Marker and Resnais’s black-and-white essay film captured the objectification and fetishisation of African artefacts and the impact of colonialism on African heritage. Similarly, It for others features an array of related artefacts and archival footage, examining the question of how artefacts and artworks are valued, exchanged, collected or displayed. A choreographed sequence composed in collaboration with dancers from the Michael Clark Company is captured from a bird’s-eye view, and seeks to illustrate, in the manner of a moving diagram, how value is accumulated. Here, Campbell acknowledges the old and the new, while capturing the contemporary contexts within which his new film is born.