The first time Katia deVidas filmed Peter Doherty was in November 2006, at a Babyshambles concert in Paris. Over the next decade, deVidas would record more than 200 hours of footage of the musician — who ushered in a new era of British rock in the early 2000s as the co-frontman of the Libertines — capturing him at his best amid floods of creativity, but also at his worst as he tumbled further into drug addiction.
As the two grew closer, forging a friendship that would eventually turn into love, deVidas realized she had an incredible story to tell. That footage became “Peter Doherty: Stranger in My Own Skin,” a raw and brutally honest portrait of an artist and addict, which premieres Friday night at the Zurich Film Festival.
“I knew that Peter had a life that was really out of the ordinary. It was a very intense, discombobulated world — so rich, so interesting. And so that’s what I was going to try and capture,” deVidas tells Variety over video chat from her and Doherty’s home in France. Now married, the two affectionally call each other “boo-boo” and take turns holding their newborn daughter, Billie-May, throughout the interview.
This kind of stability is new for Doherty, whose various run-ins with the law for drug-related offenses and relationship with Kate Moss at the height of the Libertines’ fame caused him to became a subject of media frenzy in the U.K. Drug-free since late 2019, Doherty admits he still has trouble reflecting on that time in his life, referring to his past self as “the guy in the documentary.”
“It just always struck me as worth recording these times,” Doherty says. “It just so happens that the documentary turned into a portrait of an addict and the recovery, but I think probably, if we went through it, there’s just as much footage of less drug-related stuff. But as it happens, I was taking a lot of drugs at the time, so it would be hard to find something where there isn’t a pipe somewhere in the background.”
“Drugs were omnipresent,” deVidas agrees.
While documenting the rise, fall and eventual reunion of the Libertines (as well as Doherty’s other band Babyshambles), the doc presents a staggeringly intimate look inside the mind of a punk-rock poet of sorts — always spewing something profound if slightly incomprehensible. Even back then, Doherty had a surprising candor about the state of his addiction. At one point, before the Libertines’ reformation to play Reading and Leeds in 2010, Doherty asks deVidas to stop filming — a request she defies — before confessing that he feels like going on stage with the band is “probably going to kill me” but that he wants to “make it through to the other side.”
Though deVidas fears including the clip in the film will make her look like a “right bitch,” the couple agrees that it sheds an important light on an oft-overlooked aspect of addiction — the self-awareness that one needs help, despite an unwillingness to act on it.
“This is what blows your mind, because they really want to get away from it — I’m talking about addicts in general, not just Peter,” deVidas says. “But it’s always about the next fix.”
“Stranger in My Own Skin” also documents Doherty’s journey to recovery, as he commits to going to a rehab center in Thailand in 2014 — but keeps delaying his flight and bingeing on drugs. By this time, he and deVidas had grown extremely close, but the filmmaker still tried to capture it all from an objective lens, simply asking him why he refused to get on the plane instead of stepping in.
“We were best friends and falling in love, and so it was really because of Katia that I went to Thailand,” Doherty says. “I said [to the rehab center], ‘I’ll only go if they let Katia come and bring the camera,’ and then they turned around and said ‘OK’ and I was like, ‘Oh.’ It wasn’t really the plan at all to go. I wouldn’t have gone on my own.”
As the film diaries from rehab begin, a single shot of deVidas and Doherty holding hands lets the viewer know things have turned romantic between them. And though the recovery isn’t easy, the color returns to Doherty’s face as he chases butterflies around the jungle and sings along to the Smiths’ “The Boy With a Thorn in His Side.”
“I just look really happy. You can see the glow of love,” Doherty says, going on to recall his first realization that he was falling for deVidas, when he found himself in Paris without a place to stay. deVidas was working at a shoot, but she handed him her car and apartment keys and said she’d see him later.
“I’m getting quite emotional now just thinking about it. At that time of my life, no one would trust me with their keys or with their car, let alone in a foreign city,” Doherty says, his voice breaking. “And it really meant a lot to me, as a friend, that element of trust, you know?” He then coos to Billie-May, “Didn’t it? Mommy’s so lovely.”
In addition to a greater understanding of Doherty, deVidas is hopeful that the documentary will leave viewers with more empathy toward those struggling with addiction.
“I feel addiction is very misunderstood. Especially Peter, he was murdered by English media. Murdered. It all comes from a bad story sells, but it also comes from the massive misunderstanding of addiction,” she says. “I hope people will come out of the film and it will stay with them, and they’ll understand. God knows if they cross the path of an addict, they will know how to help them, maybe.”
Adds Doherty, “My thoughts about myself at that time are quite set in stone, in a way. I find it difficult to be emotionally honest about my drug use still, so I just look for the amusing things and think that people might find a few things amusing, and that’s enough for me. But actually, maybe there are people who will look at it a bit more seriously, and see some of the terror and danger of addiction. Because it is a horror story in some ways. Think about the physical degradation and how many people die from substance abuse, especially in this generation.”
With the premiere of the documentary, which is backed by Pathé and will be in theaters on Nov. 9 in the U.K., Doherty is turning over a new leaf in his life. That includes a fourth album from the Libertines, which Doherty says is finished and ready for release in February or March.
“Carl Barât said to me that he didn’t think the third Libertines album was a real album, and that this was now the third Libertines album — which shocked me, personally. There are some belters on there,” Doherty says. “It was a challenge, but probably more rewarding than any other albums. I think I was a bit more present, you know? Rather than just popping in in a mad burst of energy and then running off, I was actually trying to lock in and be in the studio. It was quite exhausting, but we’ve actually made a brilliant album. It’s a balance — it’s a give and take, isn’t it? You get back what you put in.”
“Peter Doherty: Stranger in My Own Skin” will release in theaters in 13 countries in November, with tickets available here.