Bullet Boy story 'had to be told'

VIV THOMAS Saul Dibb, whose feature film debut Bullet Boy - featuring So Solid Crew's Asher D - is now hitting the region's big screens, began his career in Norwich after studying film at the University of East Anglia. He spoke exclusively to Viv Thomas.


Saul Dibb, whose feature film debut Bullet Boy hits the region's screens today, began his career in Norwich after studying film at the University of East Anglia.

He graduated with a Film and English Studies degree in 1990 and stayed in the city to learn his craft, making his first film with a friend from university, which was screened at Cinema City before the movie Delicatessen.

“It was a drama about a landlord which I made with Andy Devonshire – we were co-writers, producers, funders – the whole thing,” he said.

Dibb also made other films, mostly arts documentaries, for Anglia Television and was involved in the First Take series.

He made the decision to move to London after a few years. “It's where I come from and I thought, if you want to make bigger films you have to go down there … a year of poverty followed,” he recalled with a smile. “It's a lot of perseverance and a lot of times thinking it's never going to happen.”

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But gradually his work and reputation built up and he became primarily known for his gritty documentaries – Lifters focused on shoplifters, Electric Avenue looked at life on the streets and the award-winning but controversial Tottenham Ayatollah featured a British Islamic fundamentalist.

And now the 36-year-old, married with a young son, has taken a step up to the next level with the release of his feature debut Bullet Boy (which he also co-wrote), centring on gun culture in urban areas. The movie was backed by BBC Films and premiered at the London Film Festival and has been shown at similar events in Canada and France, getting a good response in each country.

With Dibb's mounting success, he retains fond memories of Norwich, and keeps strong connections with the area. “Lots of my friends are from there.”

Q. The subject of guns in black communities is a tough one for a white director – what attracted you to it and did you have any reservations?

A. If you make documentaries you're always making films in different areas, unfamiliar areas. This just felt to me like a story that hadn't been told and needed to be told and, in a way, if you make documentaries it doesn't make it so daunting an idea to go into a film which has an all-black cast. The main thing is to make sure the story has an integrity and authenticity and I felt fairly confident I'd be able to do that. Underneath the story there's a family dynamic and situations that everyone can relate to. If there were going to be areas where I wasn't very good on particular details, I chose very carefully a cast and other people to work with who would be able to fill in those gaps. To me, this is a universal story that could happen in any of Britain's cities – and does.

Q. Did the professional actors and newcomers to acting help you get realistic dialogue?

A. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to write that and get it to sound authentic. So I wanted to work on themes with people and allow them to interpret that in the way that they would speak, and then edit it down so you've got authentic dialogue. None of the people who were chosen were very far from the characters that they play. Even the actors have had some overlap into the world they're portraying.

Q. Was there a problem of trying to avoid negative stereotypes yet keeping it realistic?

A. You are aware you're dealing with a very contentious subject, dealing with representations on a bigger level but then you're treading a fine line all the way through – probably every choice and every decision you make you're aware of that. Hopefully, you make the right choices along the way. Film inherently can bring an element of glamour to it and we were aware to undercut a lot of that in the visual style or dynamics of the scenes, ... casting – those kind of things.

Q. Did you make changes during filming and were there different endings planned?

A. I made observational documentaries where you edit it when you've got 80 per cent and then see what you need and we did that with this film. I felt quite comfortable doing that to get a sense of how it should end, to get that balance between the reality of their situation in the film and also some hope and redemption in there – which I think is very important to provide. So we did have different endings.

Q. How did you come to choose Ashley as the lead – and was it a factor that he was already famous as a member of So Solid Crew?

A. My main choice was Ashley – as an actor – as I had seen him in Storm Damage. I met him, he understood the part, he did have this background – but lots of people have that background and I think very few could be asked to play the part he played. He had proved in the past his abilities as an actor and I felt confident he was absolutely right.

Q. And how did you find the youngster who plays his brother Curtis?

A. We looked through about 1000 kids to find Luke – there's something about the way he looks on screen, something about his innocence which is something I wanted very strongly. Luke [was] a 12-year-old boy and they are quite shy and you've got to get out a performance – and Ashley was incredibly helpful as they'd already formed a strong brotherly relationship. Luke can be shy and also very cheeky so he loved the fact Ashley was very well-known.

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