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Bert Eeles

Published on 19 May 2011

Film editor;

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Born: August 30, 1943; Died: April 25, 2011.

AN APPRECIATION

Bert Eeles, who has died aged 67, was a gifted film editor who made a huge contribution to filmmaking in Scotland as a colleague, teacher and friend.

In his early career he cut a number of Scottish feature films, notably Mhairi Mhor for Mike Alexander and Girl In The Picture with John Gordon Sinclair, and latterly he nourished a new generation of Scottish filmmakers. He understood directors and many sought out his guidance when they most needed it, as they made their first steps.

Invariably he was the first to help them form their voice. These short films include, among many others, those of David Mackenzie, Morag Mackinnon, Peter Mackie Burns, Amy Neil, and certainly my own.

I met him at Napier University in 1993, in the midst of that short-lived experiment in education that aimed to nurture new voices, the Scottish Film School. He showed me how to lace up a Steenbeck film editing machine and from that moment onwards a constant was established: the best part of the process has always been the editing, and editing has always meant sharing the film with Bert.

I remember a few years ago Bert called me at my home in Slovenia and my daughter, Tana, who was two years old, picked up the phone.

“Hallo … it’s Bert o’ Lucci!”

Tana groped for the few words she knew in English. “What,” pause, “what are you?”

Bert never ceased to be amused by this. He had a tremendous, full-bodied laugh that came bursting out, and he adopted those words as the greeting of preference whenever we spoke.

“What are you?” Bert was a human being, and that was the great quality he brought to film editing.

For Berto, a cutting room was a kind of home. It should be there on indefinite lease. It should be clean, organised and civilised. It needed a window and an ashtray, because smoking and contemplating film are such close cousins.

While Bert claimed never, consciously, to have taught anyone anything, from the very start he was brilliant at handling the delicate relationship between editor/provocateur and director/dreamer. I knew if some outrageous new proposal was good because, when I told Berto, he would pause and then say “…you interest me, strangely….”, before erupting with laughter.

He was never possessive of his skills, or less than generous with his time and, in turn, we – the directors – could imagine new films, films cooked up as prolonged editing schemes to share with Berto.

These were generally high- aspiration low-budget films with prolonged post-production that would take place in improvised and unusual surroundings.

Despite the lack of money he allowed himself to be dedicated to these projects, and in the independent scene he was a mainstay.

He took the work as a great chance to experience life, and he did it with great sympathy and insight. He used to tell me, apropos films he had made, that success was always much less interesting than falure. And he often told me that cutting drama was easy compared with documentary, because often it was for documentary projects that we sought out his special qualities as a colleague: his delight in it, his loyalty and his discipline.

A cut is there to advance the story. A good shot, and a whole film is the process of allowing something to be revealed. These were the rigorous strictures that he brought to very open-ended projects to negotiate with his feeling for character, rhythm and sense.

We worked together for nine years on my documentary, The Ring. It would have been impossible without Bert and we were both immensely proud of it.

He lived for most of his life in Glasgow and had a real admiration for the city and its people, a kind of closeness to pain and joy, pride and desperation. The film he completed before he died, Peter Mackie Burns’s Come Closer, is to my mind the best portrait of that city and its soul that has ever been made. It is a tour de force, and a testament to the great maturity he achieved as an editor.

Like many others I loved him and depended on him, and I hope that we will have the opportunity to show Come Closer and The Ring in homage to a great friend, teacher, colleague and artist.

He leaves Zoe, his daughter, and Sheila, his long-time partner.

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