When Australian film director and composer Andrew Lancaster presented his Mar. 9 Master Class on film music composing during Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, he wasn’t just there for the day. Lancaster was wrapping up a stay in Coral Gables and the Greater Miami area during which time he had researched and assembled a documentary about his great uncle, Capt. Bill Lancaster.
That documentary, The Lost Aviator, explores his great uncle’s role in a murder mystery that played out in South Florida in the early 1930s after Capt. Lancaster, a former Royal Air Force pilot and adventurer, decided to make history by being the first to fly a single-engine aircraft from England to Australia.
Lacking funds, Bill Lancaster took up with Australian socialite Jessie “Chubbie” Miller, who agreed to finance the expedition if he took her with him. Lancaster left behind his wife and two young children and flew off with Miller, who also was married.
Their record-setting trip was successful but neither returned to their homes, ending up instead in Hollywood, CA. The scandal of their affair brought hard times upon them and they ended up in Coral Gables, where Lancaster took to flying cargo planes to Mexico for income.
Miller worked on writing her biography with Haden Clarke, a young American man who moved into their home in Lancaster’s absence. Clarke was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head and Lancaster was put on trial for murder in Miami’s Dade County Courthouse in 1932. Bill Lancaster eventually was found not guilty, but the cloud and the mystery remained.
Andrew Lancaster’s background in short films, often music centered, and his fulllength films In Search of Mike and Accidents Happen were discussed by Miami composer Carlos Rafael Rivera, who helped conduct the Master Class on music scores and sound design for films. Noni Couell, the producer of The Lost Aviator, also attended.
Andrew Lancaster’s documentary had its world premiere at the MIFF, with his parents, who were celebrating their 50th anniversary, attending. Although he admits that his family wasn’t too keen on his revisiting that part of their history, it was something that he felt compelled to do. And he may not be done exploring it.
“I’d love to do a drama version of the case, set in Miami,” Lancaster said, adding that he would like to return to the area. “There are a lot of great stories in Miami.”
To see the documentary trailer go to www.thelostaviator.com/.