Pride On Film: DAVID IS DYING, a Stephen Lloyd Jackson film

Reposted From October 1, 2011

David Brown is a young, successful hedge fund manager who has just been told that he is HIV positive. Brown has to face the possibility that his fiancee and unborn child could be infected too. Through narrative sessions with a psychiatrist, UK independent filmmaker Stephen Lloyd Jackson takes the audience on a psychological journey that began 12 months earlier.  DAVID IS DYING has played to critical acclaim in film festivals around the world and it makes it’s Chicago premiere at the  47th Chicago International Film Fest on Saturday October 15th. PRIDEINDEX extended our hands across the Atlantic Ocean to the Thames River to talk with Stephen Lloyd Jackson here’s what he had to say about HIV, the black community in London and his mission to make films about the African Diaspora.

PRIDEINDEX: Why did you become a filmmaker?

STEPHEN LLOYD JACKSON: That’s a very extensive question. However, in a nutshell, I will simply say that I became a filmmaker because I wanted to create and showcase a kind of social awareness and equilibrium of man’s psyche through a visual prospective of the world we live in.

PI: You founded SAR Productions in 2010 as a “Vehicle to produce a trilogy of complex character driven features about people from the African Diaspora,” what exactly does this mean?

SLJ: I’ve got a lot of things to get off my chest. I mean this in an artistic way. I didn’t want to do this in one feature film. It would have been a long film. I’m not sure if you’re aware about the first cut of Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon A Time In America,’ that was nearly five hours long. Or, Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now,’ that too was about a zillion hours long on its first cut.

So, what I decided to do was to create a company that would embody three films about people from the African Diaspora, living and working in London, dealing with very intense human issues. Incidentally, ‘SAR’ is an abbreviation for Sex And Race, three volumes of books written by the Jamaican historian, J.A. Rogers.

Nevertheless, what inspired this idea about making a trilogy, were filmmakers such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who made the trilogy of films dealing with death – Amores Perros, 21 grams and Babel. Also, Park Chan-Wook’s, the vengeance trilogy, consisting of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

So my trilogy of films will be dealing with the psyche and ego of man, with its premises deriving from sex and race, told through people from the African Diaspora based in London. David Is Dying is the first installment in the trilogy.

PI: What do you want audiences to take away from DAVID IS DYING?

SLJ: I want audiences to take away a memory of David’s experience whether they like his character, or not. I want audiences to remember him and his journey. I want audiences to be touched by the essence of the human spirit in this story.

PI: Did you find it easy or difficult to make an informative, yet entertaining film to help raise awareness about AIDS/HIV within London’s black community?

SLJ: To be totally honest, the premises of the story always came first. I looked at the script and felt that it wasn’t enough. A woman like Carla, (David’s fiancée in the movie), doesn’t, all of a sudden find the strength to get up one morning and move on from her psychological abuser. It didn’t feel right to me. So I needed a component, something that will throw Carla on a different sphere of thinking and something that will endanger not just her life, but also the life of her unborn child. Therefore, giving her the strength to get away from David.

So to answer the question, none of the issues of whether or not HIV awareness in the London black community will have a great impact on the film, was an easy or difficult decision to bring to the movie. It was always about the story for me.

Also, although I like to see myself as a rather contrastive filmmaker, I don’t directly set out to say, I want to build my film around this subject, or that subject because I know it will create this amount of noise from the public and/or media. I think that’s a load of “B/S.” Yes, I can be political in the characters and stories I create. I am a somewhat of a political filmmaker. However, I’m also an artist, an entrepreneur and sometimes more of one element can be used in a movie than the other. But by all means this usually occurs by default.

PI: Tell us about any notable challenges you encountered while making this film.

SLJ: There were really no notable challenges while principle photography was taking place. We were blessed with a great team. Andy Mundy-Castle, the other producer whom I spoke with and planned everything with in great detail, never lost sight of any potential pitfalls. Okay, to be totally honest, the casting process was a bit anxious at times. I knew exactly what kind of actors I wanted to play David and Carla. And, although a lot of amazing people came through the door, they didn’t quite hit the nail on the head until Lonyo Engele and Isaura Barbe-Brown auditioned for David and Carla.

They both had opposite acting backgrounds. Isaura was trained in theatre in New York and Lonyo has a music background, but in the past have done a few TV roles. Nevertheless, because we worked with a lot of improvisation, it allowed them to bring in their own unique style to the characters, which seemed to work very well, albeit, a risk, because it was their debut movie. They were both very impressive. So too were the rest of cast, including my eleven year old son who bravely plays “Young David.”

PI: Why did you decide to use a newcomer to play the lead role of David?

SLJ: I decided to use a new comer to play David because the obvious answer is, is that he was bloody magnificent. Lonyo actually came to the audition to drop off another actor. He was then asked if he wanted to try for the David reading. So as he was reading, his phone went off, and he answered it, still keeping in the ‘David’ character. I knew from then that that was our guy.

Also, I love working with raw talent. I love to pluck people from obscurity or people that one would never think of using for a certain part and place them in that character.

PI: Name at least 3 people who have influenced your artistic style. If you had the opportunity to work with only one of these influences which one would you choose? Why?

SLJ: There are so many people that have influenced me artistically, from Salvador Dali, to Spike Lee. British supermodel Jourdan Dunn to Martin Scorsese. It wouldn’t be fair to name just three influential artists.

However, if you were to push me, I’d say I love Denzel Washington. He’s a crazy, (crazy in a way that he’s a fearless actor) actor, so much depth and layers to his work. He does wonders to a “normal” character. He personifies what a great actor should be.

Thelma Schoonmaker, is from another planet, (I mean that in the nicest of ways). She must have a third eye somewhere. For those people whom may not be aware of who she is, she’s a film editor. I think I’m right in saying that she’s cut nearly all of Scorsese’s films. Her timing and knowledge of visual rhythm is impeccable. Her narration is floorless; it’s riveting, passionate, intriguing and full of suspense, a true great artist and crafts woman.

Enio Morricone, the man’s a music genius. If I could get him to score one of my movies – WOW!!! His classical score, Deborah’s Theme in one of my all time favorite movies, Once Upon A Time In America, is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard in my life. Don’t laugh, but I’m getting emotional right now as we speak about it. I went to his concert in London five or six years back and it was easily the best concert I’ve ever been to. However, I’m yet to see Jay Z and Kanye West next month, so we’ll see.

PI: DAVID IS DYING has won two Grand Jury prizes at the 2011 15th American Black Film Fest, it has played at festivals around the world for that matter where else do you plan on showing It next?

Stephen Lloyd Jackson with actor Lonyo

SLJ: I have had a few offers from distributors/sales agents who are interested in taking on the movie. However, in one-way or the other, the terms for the deals have not been up to what I believe are beneficial for the movie.

Therefore, if I don’t get a decent deal for the film by the end of this year (2011) I will put in process a self distribution model and take things from there.

PI: If you could re-make DAVID IS DYING all over again what would you do differently?

SLJ: NOTHING! Absolutely nothing.

DAVID IS DYING will show on Saturday October 8 at the International Black Film Festival of Nashville click here for more info:

Saturday October 15 at 6:40PM and Monday Octber 17 at 9:00PM at the 47th Annual Chicago International Film Festival at the AMC River East Theater to purchase tickets click here:

Saturday October 15 at 8:00PM at the Urban Media Makers Film Fest (UMFF) at the Red Clay Theater & Arts Center in Duluth, GA to purchase tickets click here:

Follow David Is Dying on Facebook:!/DavidIsDying