Jill Nicholls’ high profile documentaries show her skill at finding inspiring characters, putting them at ease and telling their stories with warmth and wit. Her informative, intelligent arts and music films have a spontaneous, observational feel, which she adeptly combines with interview and a poetic use of archive and stills.
Her work has appeared on all the main television channels and at international festivals, and has won major awards including from the Grierson Trust and the Royal Television Society. The tense and thriller-like The Fatwa: Salman’s Story and the lyrical Vivian Maier – Who Took Nanny’s Pictures, both made for BBC Imagine, are perhaps her best known recent films, which have won the most awards.
She started out on Spare Rib, the women’s liberation magazine, and has always pursued stories about women’s lives – from young women as they try to join the fire brigade or an enclosed convent, to fabulous older women artists and writers like Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, Diana Athill, Judith Kerr and Louise Bourgeois.
Spare Rib was also a good preparation for collaborative working and making the most of modest budgets!
Her first job in television was on ITV’s flagship documentary and current affairs series First Tuesday, where she specialised in observational films following stories over deliciously long periods of time. For Channel 4’s new directors’ strand Short Stories she made a film exposing the diet industry through the experience of one 12 year old girl.
She was then series producer and co-director of three major observational series about British institutions for BBC2 – When Rover Met BMW, Superstore and Royal College of Art. She was also series producer of the acclaimed series for BBC4 which delved into the roots of popular music – Folk America.
In the last ten years Jill has made many hour long and feature length documentaries on arts and culture, mainly for BBC Music and the BBC1 arts series Imagine.
Jill got a first class degree in English at Cambridge, feeding a lifelong passion for literature and story-telling. After a few months driving a delivery van (where she was instrumental in getting equal pay for the women drivers – from £17.98 a week to a lordly £23!), she joined Spare Rib. She also co-founded Sheba Feminist Publishers. She freelanced as a feature writer for the Guardian, Sunday Times, New Statesman and Time Out, and was agony aunt for Loving, Woman’s World and Honey – ‘Ask Jill’.
In television, one of her fondest memories is of working in a team of two, on a miniscule budget, travelling the world for Rooted, a series for Channel 5 and Christian Aid. She took children aged 10 to 13 who were born and brought up in Britain back to explore their family roots in Uganda, Zambia, Lebanon and Cambodia. The series won Broadcast and RTS awards and was nominated for a BAFTA.
In short Jill is a versatile filmmaker, open to different ways of working, always looking for a good story with a purpose and a human heart.