While working on our latest film, The Seasons in Quincy (2016), we came across two fascinating films from the late 1980s that feature Tilda Swinton and John Berger. Peter Wollen’s Friendship’s Death (1987) tells the story of an extra-terrestrial who comes to Earth to persuade human beings to reform to prevent their future self-destruction, while Timothy Neat’s Play Me Something (1989) is a film about a storyteller who tells a group of travellers a captivating tale about a romantic encounter in Venice. Since these films are rarely screened in the UK and are not available on DVD, we have partnered with the British Film Institute (BFI) to bring them to a wider audience.


The Derek Jarman Lab is the media hub at Birkbeck, University of London, which offers filmmaking training, support and facilities to its postgraduate students. The Lab is also active in organising events, producing films and encouraging moving image research.

Friendship’s Death

Directed by: Peter Wollen | 1987 | UK | 78 minutes

Produced by: The British Film Institute| Channel Four Films | Modelmark

Starring: Tilda Swinton | Bill Paterson

Set in Amman, Jordan, during the ‘Black September’ conflict of 1970 in which the Jordanian state crushed the Palestinian revolution, Friendship’s Death tells the story of an extra-terrestrial called Friendship (Swinton), who has been sent to Earth on a mission to persuade human beings to reform in order to prevent their imminent self-extinction. Landing in the war-torn Middle East instead of the campus of MIT, Friendship meets the British journalist Sullivan (Paterson), and the two engage in funny and intelligent conversation as Sullivan explains to Friendship the civil war that has trapped them in a hotel.

Source Credit: British Film Institute

Friendship’s Death interweaves elements of science fiction with powerful political commentary, and combines filmed material with archive footage; most memorably the bombing of three hijacked aeroplanes on a remote desert strip near Zarka, Jordan. It is a beautifully filmed consideration of the plight of Palestinians, and all other ‘victims of a map’.

The film is not available on DVD and so screening it is a rare opportunity for audiences to see influential film theorist Peter Wollen’s only solo feature film, which stars actor Tilda Swinton in one of her earliest, critically acclaimed roles. The film was selected to screen at New York University in 2016, testifying to its continuing relevance.

Formats: Blu Ray | DVD | SD-H264 | Apple ProRes 422 (HQ)

Source Credit: British Film Institute


Play Me Something

Directed by: Timothy Neat | 1989 | UK | 72 minutes

Produced by: British Film Institute | Film Four International | Grampian Television | Film Four Production Fund

Starring: John Berger | Tilda Swinton | Hamish Henderson

In an airport lounge on the remote Hebridean island of Barra, a group of individuals await a flight to Glasgow. They meet an enigmatic stranger (Berger), who tells them the story of a romantic encounter in Venice between an Italian farm worker and a young woman, who spend an evening together talking, dancing, and playing music. Combining a multitude of textures and sources – colour, black and white, 16mm and 35mm, and, for the story within the story, evocative still photographs by Jean Mohr – the film becomes a compelling meditation on the nature of stories and storytelling, politics, work, people, and places.

Source Credit: British Film Institute

A collaboration between director Timothy Neat and the intellectual and storyteller John Berger, Play Me Something is a beautiful and mesmerising adaptation of one of Berger’s stories: the last ‘chapter’ of Once in Europa (1987), part of his great ‘peasant trilogy’ Into Their Labours. Although the film won the Europa prize at Barcelona International Film Festival in 1989, it was largely ignored by British critics on its release, and is not available on DVD. Screening this film is therefore a rare opportunity to see the critically acclaimed actor Tilda Swinton in one of her earliest roles, and John Berger in his first dramatic role. It is also an occasion for those interested in the life and work of John Berger, particularly after his recent portrayal in the Derek Jarman Lab’s The Seasons in Quincy (2016), to see an expression of the humanitarian values that have driven his art.

Formats: Blu Ray | DVD | SD-H264 | Apple ProRes 422 (HQ)

Source Credit: British Film Institute


To get in touch with us regarding screenings of Friendship’s Death and Play Me Something, please contact Robyn at robyn@jarmanlab.org.

The Derek Jarman Lab
36 Gordon Square

+44 (0) 20 3073 8358