[Review] The British Urban Film Festival 2011

The British Urban Film Festival (September 16-18th) opened its doors for the sixth time to film-makers, writers, bloggers, actors and creatives, at the TUC Building in London’s West End. The brainchild of aspiring film maker Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe it showcases the best works of British newcomers in writing, directing and producing.

Friday saw the UK premiere of the award-winning feature film ‘David is Dying,’ written, produced and directed by Stephen Lloyd Jackson. Filmed in just 24 days, it tells the story of handsome, wealthy, Alpha male David Brown and his relationship struggles with his beautiful and long-suffering girlfriend Carla. Throughout the course of the film, cleverly presented as a therapy session, we learn that David’s childhood was unconventional; the only child of a glamorous courtesan, he found her lifeless body after returning home from school one day.  The events of his childhood shape his adult life and as well as becoming a successful businessman, he grows into a paranoid, manipulative and deceitful boyfriend.

The film was both witty and well-shot. The clever use of camera angles, extreme close-up shots and black and white effects, gave the story that ‘documentary feel’ that director, Stephen Lloyd Jackson was trying to portray. It allowed the audience to develop an intimacy with the characters, and gain a deeper understanding of David’s various relationships. Overall the writing and editing was good, but not perfect; during the quieter, perhaps superfluous scenes, I could sense the audience getting restless. The devil was however, in the detail. During the Q&A session after the film, Stephen Lloyd Jackson explained that they worked with an improvised script, and the shooting process was very organic and ad hoc. This was reflected in the acting and execution of the film and added a refreshing aspect to the drama. At times, the dialogue was heart-breaking, terrifying, puzzling and down-right funny all at the same time. Some films tend to allow improvisations to derail a script, but in this case, this technique definitely successful.


What worked most about ‘David is Dying’ was its male lead, Lonyo Engele. Fans of  UK Garage music will remember Lonyo from ‘Summer of Love,’ his early naughties hit that still gets a reload on my car stereo. This film was Lonyo’s first substantial acting role, having previously played a footballing extra in Sky’s ‘Dream Team.’ Despite not having any formal acting experience, Lonyo took the role of David and made it his own. Mannerisms, facial expressions and a sharp tongue all helped to build the character of David, and although he wasn’t likeable, Lonyo managed to portray a level of pity and helplessness, that allowed the audience to see past David’s transgressions. Playing alongside Isaura Barbe-Brow, the two actors had strong chemistry and were definitely believable as a high-achieving, yet dysfunctional couple. In conclusion, the film was an insightful story about the mind of a damaged young man, striking the right balance between comedy and drama.

The festival also presented a number of short films by up and coming film makers. Hitler and Henry VIII (directed by Jane Sanchez-Gull) was a short, sharp, shock to the system. Following the fatal events that unfold when a History teacher snaps after failing to get any positive response from a class of bored teenagers, it provided a thoughtful comment on the role of ‘traditional’ history in the lives of today’s multi-cultural youth. Drink, Drugs & KFC (directed by Aml Ameen) was a 30 minute episode, not dissimilar to previous Ameen project, Kidulthood. A buddy comedy starring a group of urban youth as they embark on what will be a night to remember for the narrator, it was a funny piece, displaying the talents of a promising young cast. I hope that this film is developed into something more substantial (a feature film or mini-series) in the future. Special Delivery (directed by Geoff Searle) is another fruit of the labours of Ameen’s talent company, AmeenDream Entertainment. Written by Kamara Bacchus, who also plays the lead, it is a sweet film portraying a bored young postwoman as she falls in love in a most unconventional way. With no dialogue, the film relied on music, sound effects, visuals and, of course, acting, which was all beautifully and tastefully done; a real treat to watch. Honourable mentions must go to two heart-warming shorts.

Invisible (directed by Harold Chapman) was a sorry tale of Victor, an African immigrant, who through tragic circumstances settles down in the UK as a low-paid, faceless street-sweeper. Exploring ideas of community and humanity, it was a beautifully written and shot piece that really made the audience think about what it is to be a part of society, challenging the insular, individualistic environment that has been allowed to develop in recent times. The Holiday (directed by Ida Akesson) was a favourite amongst the other film makers and with good reason. It followed the story of handy man Ken, as he struggles to keep up the pretence of a life he describes to his friends and work colleagues, that is far removed from his sad and lonely reality. Its underlying message of escapism was bittersweet yet touching, and it was an interesting and clever twist to tell a story based on such an ordinary character.


Overall, the festival served its purpose as a showcase and celebration of the best of new British film-making talent, as well as an opportunity for like-minded individuals to come together and, possibly, work collaboratively to create something even better for next year.