By Katie Small
If you could travel back in time to any point within your own life — under what circumstances could you be persuaded to relive your teenage years? What would it take, to entice you to return to high school and all of the angst and awkwardness that came with it?
Jono McLeod’s retrospective documentary My Old School goes there, in multiple ways. The Scottish filmmaker takes a serious trip down memory lane and returns to his days in secondary school, in a deep-dive investigation into the bizarre mystery surrounding his former classmate, Brandon Lee.
In 1993, 16-year-old Brandon Lee enrolled at Bearsden Academy, a preparatory school in an upper middle class suburb of Glasgow. After an initially awkward start, Lee — who had, until then, been privately tutored in Canada while on tour with his opera singer mom — would quickly become the school’s brightest and most popular pupil.
While at Bearsden, Lee impressed teacher’s with his outsized skillset and uncanny knowledge, and mystified his peers with his quirky charms and determination to attend medical school. He starred in the school play, hosted late-night parties at his house, introduced his classmates to hip retro rock bands, and made a point of befriending the kids who were bullied.
He was beloved and believed, until he came clean. Once revealed, his disturbing secret made everyone who knew Lee question the true nature of their relationship to him.
Through an impressive lip-synced performance by Alan Cumming, engaging interviews with former classmates and teachers, evocative 1990s-style animation, and archival news footage, McLeod resolves the puzzle surrounding Brandon Lee and the scandal that made national headlines.
“This was such a huge story in Scotland,” Cumming said during the post-premiere Q&A. “When Jono told me about it, I remembered how fascinated I had been by the story, and about Brandon, and about the whole set of circumstances around it. And I really do love the process of [Jono’s] documentary, where you don’t really know what the film is until quite late,” he continues.
“You have a vague idea, but the actual narrative comes later. I like that, and was excited about being a part of that and seeing how Jono was going to achieve it,” he says with a smile.