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A matter of life and death

DIRECTOR: Stephen Lloyd Jackson

RECENTLY scooping two awards at the prestigious American Black Film Festival, upcoming British film David is Dying seems set for big things.

The film earned British filmmaker Stephen Lloyd Jackson the best director award at the celebrated US film festival, while the film’s star Lonyo Engele (who previously enjoyed music success with his 2000 hit Summer of Love), scooped the gong for best male.

Not bad at all for an independently made UK production that currently has no scheduled release date.

Described as a psychological drama, David is Dying tells the story of David Brown (Engele); a confused and tormented man who tries to seek recompense before he dies of HIV.

As a boy, David fell in love with his beautiful mother, who eventually died from a drug overdose in her son’s arms.

In his adult life, David finds not only business success, but also love with Carla (Isaura Barbe-Brown), who is identical in appearance to his mother. But through an intense therapy session with his psychiatrist, audiences observe how David tirelessly attempts to control and possess Carla, revealing all his skeletons in the process.

“The film is ultimately about the possession of the soul,” says Jackson, whose previous work includes the 2005 film, Rulers and Dealers. “However, through a series of events David deals with it in somewhat of precarious way, which ultimately leads to his downfall.”

An insightful tale of one man’s journey, the film boldly tackles the issue of mortality, as David comes to terms with the fact that he will die. In addition, he is informed of the possibility that his fiancé Carla and their unborn child may also be infected with HIV.

What was the inspiration for such a courageous and touching film? Does Jackson know anyone who suffers from HIV?

“There were many inspirations behind the story,” he says. “It was a script that I first started over 10 years ago and it was inspired by many things including the essence of relationships between man and woman, several great movies, the art of talking and listening – which is powerful stuff – and a desire to produce a tiny story with such large ripples.

“It’s not whether I know somebody with HIV, but rather, do I know somebody whom is dying and yes, I do.”

TOUCHING: Lonyo Engele and Isaura Barbe-Brown star as David and Carla

Through his therapy session, David takes viewers on a journey that began 12 months prior, during which time he enjoyed many women and many sexual encounters.

Does Jackson think he might face any opposition from black audiences who feel that the film reinforces negative stereotypes about sexual promiscuity amongst black men?

“Maybe, maybe not,” he says. “In other words, I didn’t set out to make a popcorn, feel-good movie. There are too many of them around. I’ve got to make films that I truly believe in; films that move me and have layers to them.

“I don’t expect everybody to like my work or to relax with this subject matter. As a matter of fact, I would rather people feel uncomfortable with it or debate it because filmmaking can be very hard work. You give a great chunk of your life to it. So for people to watch it and just say ‘That was nice’, I wouldn’t find that inspiring. I would rather people get passionate or reveal true emotions to the viewing experience, than be bored by it or say that they’ve seen it all before from another filmmaker.”

In the world of film, the terms ‘self-funded’ or ‘independently produced’ can sometimes fill audiences with dread; leading them to suspect that the production will be of a poor quality and look like a ‘budget’ movie.

But judging by the trailer for David is Dying, Jackson has created a high quality production, making him well worthy of the best director gong he received at the American Black Film Festival. Held in Miami, the prestigious event, now in its 15th year, was attended by stars including Mekhi Phifer, Vivica A. Fox and Michael Clarke Duncan.

While it’s no new feat for British films to receive nods at American award ceremonies, (The King’s Speech was crowned best picture at this year’s Oscars), it is still is gratifying when a Brit flick is able to resonate with audiences across the pond.

For Jackson to achieve this with David is Dying is proof that quality films can be made without huge budgets or the backing of major film companies.

“Funding is always difficult for most filmmakers,” Jackson admits. “Movie-making is one of the most expensive art forms to produce.

“However, I thought very deeply about this and decided to shoot the film on a SLR (single lens reflex) camera – against the advice of almost everybody I pitch the project to. But that dramatically reduced the cost.

“Also, I purposely constructed the script in a way that it would offer me choices in the way the film could be shot and edited. Moreover, I made sure we had a good crew and great actors on board.”

Following the film’s success at the American Black Film Festival, Jackson will now continue the festival run, with one of the notable stops being the British Urban Film Festival. David is Dying will open the three-day event, which begins on September 16.

Ask Jackson what his long-term hopes for the film are and the answer is simple: “For people to remember it.”

For more information, visit For more details on the British Urban Film Festival, visit

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