Christian Vince meets the medic, turned theologist, turned Brixton-based filmmaker who has qualified for the 2024 Oscars with his new short film, The Stupid Boy
Having been behind a camera since his teens, Phil Dunn’s decades of experience shine through in this short.
The story flits between the narratives of two characters: Michael, a neurodivergent teenager unable to understand that he is being bullied; and Stephen, a white supremacist with a troubled past. The two characters meet in the final scene in Brixton Village, as the film takes a hair-raising turn.
Dunn launched his film company, Authentive, after two years of studying medicine and three years of reading philosophy, graduating from university in 2005.
“I bought a camera on my credit card as a student, which was really stupid because it took me about two years to pay it off,” he says. “However, it was the bedrock of my new business.”
After filming a few weddings, Dunn fell into the corporate world by chance, where he spent a decade creating material for big brands such as Coca Cola and Jaguar.
During this time, Dunn moved his company to Brixton, working out of a variety of co-working spaces in the area.
“I loved that,” he says. “I could just walk through Brixton Village and Pop Brixton every day.”
Dunn recalls that it was “a bit of a nightmare for the waistline”, as he was surrounded by the range of food Brixton has to offer.
After 10 years of working on corporate projects, the 44-year-old had a moment of realisation, as he was filming a conference, that he no longer wanted to do this type of repetitive work.
“I had this moment where I felt like I woke up next to the camera,” he says.
“It was a bit like one of those embarrassing dreams where you wake up and you’re naked.”
At the time, however, the director found the move away from corporate stability daunting. A number of years later, Dunn has now written and directed three successful short films.
The Stupid Boy, his most recent project, is currently circulating global film festivals, having won 39 awards, with at least half being voted for by everyday people.
The idea for the film came from the 2005 terror attack in London, with Dunn only writing the script 15 years later during lockdown.
After recruiting producer Gabrielle Oliver, filming began on the project at notable locations across Brixton, including Brixton Village.
“We kept all of the filming as local to Brixton as possible, drawing on local talent,” says Dunn. “We reached out the Brixton Youth Theatre where we got a few runners from, who we were able to pay so they could afford to be a part of the project.”
Dunn’s decision to set the film in Brixton was a subconscious choice, having written and developed the script with nowhere else in mind.
“Brixton is this brilliant melting pot of so many cultures,” he says. “If a white supremacist wanted to make a stand against multiculturalism, targeting people of different races, this would be the place to do it.”
The plot of this story has brought audiences to tears, with the story of compassion and hate pulling at the heartstrings of viewers across the globe.
The film is set to continue on the festival circuit, with hopes that it will continue to reach as many people as possible and, in the process, maybe be shortlisted for an Oscar, Dunn hopes.
The ability for Dunn to character build within this short is impressive, with the back story and personality of each character being clearly developed over the 15 minutes. This does not detract from the writer’s creation of an alternate reality of Londoners being on high alert following a spate of white supremacist suicide bombings.
The portrayal of the characters’ respective relationship with God is interesting as it illustrates the different personal interpretations of religion and belief. The direct juxtaposition between the characters goes beyond religious views, with Michael’s compassion and naivety contrasting the hatred and resentment obvious in the dark scenes with Stephen.
The final scene is shot and scored perfectly, creating a climax like no other. When Michael takes a step towards danger, audience members follow closely behind, hoping for the best and fearing for the worst.