Derek Williams (born 20 August 1929 in Newcastle upon Tyne, Ingland) is a Breetish documentary film director an writer who wis active frae the 1950s till 1992. His films received fower Breetish Academy o Film an Televeesion Airts (BAFTAs) an five Oscar nominations (fower as director an writer an ane as writer anerlie) aw in the short documentary classification.
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His first film, Hadrian's Wall, wis made while he wis at university an wis sel-financed. On the basis o this film he wis able tae enter the film industry as a trainee assistant for World Wide Films. His first commercial film, released in 1955, wis Oil Harbour, Aden, made for the sponsor George Wimpey & Co who haed the contract tae build a port tae service a nearbi oil refinery being built bi BP. Williams actit as cameraman as well as writer an director durin the twa year location filmin.
His first big break came in 1955 when World Wide Films wis appointit bi BP tae film the British Trans-Antarctic Expedition, unner Dr. Vivian Fuchs, which BP wis sponsorin. Williams became a member o the saxteen-body pairty the sailed tae the Weddell Sea aboard Theron wi the intention o establishin an advance base for the main pairty due tae arrive the follaein year. Durin the ootward journey the ship became frozen is sea ice an an' a' haed tae depairt mair rapidly than oreeginally intendit, haein depositit the shore pairty who wur tae stay through the Antarctic winter. The resultin film, Foothold on Antarctica, wis released in 1956. It received a private viewin at Buckingham Palace an went on tae receive an Oscar nomination. The film wis an aa shown on a number o occasions as pairt o public events which includit a talk frae Sir Vivian Fuchs an which raised private donations towards the costs o the expedition.
His next film, Oxford, made in 1956, wis commissioned bi the Central Office of Information as pairt o their efforts tae attract owerseas students.
In 1957 Williams moved frae World Wide Films tae Greenpark Films. He wrote an directit From the Good Earth in 1957 unner the sponsorship o Hovis. This wis follaed bi There Was a Door (1957), which leuked at the care o the severely learnin disabled an wis sponsored bi the Manchester Regional Hospital Board. This film representit his first social subject, an area that the Breetish documentary film industry syne the 1930s haes haed a strang track record. The film wis subsequently televised bi the BBC. In 1959 he made The Road tae MIS, a film sponsored bi BP tae mark its fiftiet anniversary. Follaein The Road to MIS, Williams became a freelance director an writer.
Subsequent films wur Bank of England (1960), Hunted in Holland (1961), The Cattle Carters (1962) and Treasure in Malta (1963), the latter three films being drama documentaries. Hunted in Holland and Treasure in Malta wur frequently shown tae Saturday forenuin children's film audiences in the 1960s.
In 1962 Williams acceptit an affer frae Films o Scotland tae direct a film tae commemorate the centennial o Glesga's appointment o its first Medical Officer for Health. Williams' candid attempts tae portray the Glasgow o the times brought him intae conflict wi John Grierson o Films of Scotland, who wantit a mair positive portrayal o Glesga. Williams wis no creditit on the release o the finished film, Health of a City (1965).
His next film wis sponsored bi BP aboot their attempts tae fynd oil in northren Alaska. The film wis released as North Slope - Alaska in 1964 an is notable for its muisic composed bi the composer Edward Williams. His subsequent films wur an aa sponsored bi BP. I Do - And I Understand (1964) wis on behauf o the Nuffield MAths Project an wan a Society of Film and Television Arts (SFTA, the predecessor tae BAFTA) award. Turkey the Bridge focused on Turkeys historical an cultural heritage. It wis editit bi Kevin Brownlow an wis Oscar nominatit. His next film, haein wirked on but no been creditit for North Sea Quest (1967), wis Algerian Pipeline (1967) made for John Brown Ltd who wur biggin a pipeline.
1967 an aa saw the makin o Indus Water sponsored bi The World Bank an wi oreeginal muisic composed bi Wilfred Joseph. The film leukit at a project unnertaken unner an Indian an Pakistan treaty tae mutually harness the waters o the Indus for agricultur. This film an aa wan a SFTA award.
In 1969, rejoinin Greenpark Films, Williams made The Taking Mood for BP New Zealand, anither sma scale dramatic piece. This wis tae be Derek Williams' last dramatic film which proved no tae be his strangest genre.
1970's an 1980's
Arguably his maist important an widely recognised film wis tae follae in 1970. Entitled The Shadow of Progress an sponsored bi BP, the film wis an early example o the environmental movement. The film exposed the consequences o industrialisation, particularly wi regard tae pollution, though comin prior tae the identification o global warmin, its focus is mair on the visual impact an damage tae wild-life an the lived environment. Ower 1,900 copies o the film wur printit an circulated in a number o leids an the film wis twice shown bi the BBC on prime time.
The follaein year he made Alaska - The Great Land again unner BP sponsorship focusin on the history, wildlife an cultur o Alaska. Edward Williams wis the composer o the muisic. The film resultit in Derek Williams' last SFTA award.
In 1972, he made Tide o Traffic unner BP sponsorship, pairt o a planned three pairt series (The Shadow of Progress, Tide of Traffic an a scriptit but niver made film on the issues creatit bi population growth). Tide of Traffic wis aboot the impact o the caur particularly in terms o its damage tae the urban environment. The film received an Oscar nomination an a Venice Golden Mercury.
In 1973 he made Scotland, a film sponsored bi BP an focused on the history an cultur o Scotland. His last film for Greenpark wis made the follaein year. A Heritage To Build On, released in 1975, wis sponsored bi the Cement and Concrete Association. He wrote the script for The End of the Road (1976) aboot Alaska, which went on tae receive an Oscar nomination.
Bi nou the Breetish documentary industry wis in rapid decline wi the growin strength o televeesion an the dwindlin availability o industrial sponsorship, particularly follaein the 1973 oil shock. Housomeivver, in his last significant budget film, The Shetland Experience (1977), Williams wirked unner the sponsorship o the Sullom Voe Association tae record the history, nature an cultur o the Shetlands as the oil began tae come ashore tae the terminal built at Sullom Voe. The film wis Oscar nominatit an Williams wis able tae attend the Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles for the anerlie time.
In 1979 he made Planet Water for BP, though on a muckle mair limited budget than the films o the early 1970s. The film focused on the problems o access tae water an covered some o the theme which wur tae be pairt o the unmade film on population growth.
Maist o his remainin films reflectit the declinin sponsorship available an wur o a mair obviously commercial nature. These include The Science of Art (1976) for Winsor & Newton, The Chemistry of India (1979) for ICI, Army Cadet (1980) an an airmy recruitment film, South East Pipeline (1982) for Esso, Fair Wear and Tear (1982) for BP, Diamond Day (1982) for De Beers, Configuration Management (1985) an Replenishment at Sea (1986) for the UK Airmed Forces.
In 1990 he made A Stake in the Soil, his first sponsorship bi Shell's film unit an focused on the environmental theme o the exhaustion o soil bi intensive farmin. A seicont Shell sponsorship follaed, Oman - Tracts of Time (1992) a film requestit bi the Sultan o Oman. Durin the making o the film Williams suffered frae (temporary) ill-health which wis tae bring tae a close his film-makin career at the age o 62.
In his retirement Williams haes written an publisht twa beuks on Roman history wi a third unpublished.
Derek Williams' films an the awards an nominations they received makes him ane o the leadin post-war UK documentary film directors. He wis the subject o a retrospective at the Breetish Film Institute on 6 December 2010.
- Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain, editit bi Patrick Russell an James Piers Taylor. A British Film Institute publication, Palgrave Macmillan 2010. (Inglis)