David Reviews

 It's the work, stupid.

THE MIGHTY DANIEL DEWSBURY.
29 April 2019

Director Daniel Dewsbury - who recently joined the roster at 2AM Films - is a rising star of the documentary world with a whole-hearted commitment to capturing honest accounts of people's lives. His four-part series 'The Mighty Redcar' which examined the lives of some of the Teeside town's residents was a ground-breaking piece of television and his star is set to rise further when his latest series is broadcast later in the year.

Daniel Dewsbury career as a documentary maker began with a competition he entered and won around a decade ago. Part of the prize was a few weeks of work experience at the BBC, and he was sold. He's from Liverpool and was studying at Lancaster University - and it hadn't really occurred to him to come to London.

Documentaries proved the perfect vehicle for Dewsbury as it allowed him to combine his curiosity about people with his love of photography. These twin passions are clearly at the heart of 'The MIghty Redcar' which possesses a beautiful aesthetic as well as heartbreaking honesty.


How did he learn to cast this distinctive gaze upon his subjects? Partly, it's instinctive. In a realm where it's easy to be manipulative, Daniel Dewsbury is plainly determined to do right by the people who appear in his films.

He also benefited from an educational apprenticeship, working on a number of programmes as a runner and a researcher before he was given a more influential role. He identifies Nick Mirsky, Sue Bourne and Simon Dickson as among those who mentored him as he learned the ropes.


If someone's going to give me their time to speak to me, and to let me do my job, then I have to take that responsibility seriously.

 ”

With journalism facing an existential crisis, and documentaries enjoying unparalleled popularity thanks to the success of programmes like 'Making A Murderer' on Netflix, filmmakers like Daniel Dewsbury are facing both an amazing opportunity and an awesome responsibility.

Is he conscious of this responsibility? "I think I've always had respect for the people that I'm talking to... respect for the people I'm filming with, and responsibility for putting people - who have no real idea of what the machinations of TV are - and putting them through that process.

"I feel is one of the most important responsibilities that I have. If someone's going to give me their time to speak to me, and to let me do my job, then I have to take that responsibility seriously."

Even the language Dewsbury uses offers a clue to the extent of this respect. As questions are put to him about the 'subjects' of his work, he replies by referring to them as 'contributors', and you sense that he genuinely sees them as his collaborators.


It's a question of balance though. As well as having a responsibility to his subjects, he has an equal responsibility to the truth. It says a lot for his ability to reconcile the conflicting demands of protecting his subjects and telling the truth that he gets a "huge, huge satisfaction from showing the films to my contributors before they go out, and discussing why we've made certain decisions."

It's an idea which informs the whole process. He laughs about the difficulty of getting away from Redcar during the filming process. If he was spotted on the London-bound railway platform then he knew it could be perceived that he wasn't really committed. He had to be fully embedded to earn and sustain the trust of those caught by his camera's gaze.


It's not just a town somewhere in the north-east. This is a lot of towns, up and down the country, which are going through very similar situations.

 ”

This throws up another danger though. Being embedded inevitably meant that Dewsbury was emotionally invested in his subjects' lives and - in the case of one individual - it was difficult to resist intervening at a moment of crisis.

But to do so would have meant that Dewsbury was unable to tell a greater truth: "It's not just a town somewhere in the north-east. This is a lot of towns, up and down the country, which are going through very similar situations."


Dewsbury's next project has him embedded in HMP Winchester and that has proven to be a challenge on a different level. For a start, he has had to deal with his own preconceptions about prison and his assumptions about both those interred there, and the men and women who guard them.

It was, he says, "a pretty intense experience" and one that required him to focus more on his purpose than 'Mighty Redcar' had: "There's that many stories in a prison, especially a prison that isn't doing so well, that you're in a situation where you have to ask yourself, 'why am I here?'"

Empathy was easier in Redcar where his subjects were largely the victims of happenstance rather their own malfeasance, and it's clear that filming in prison was a challenging experience. Not least because he was pitched into the conflict between the under-resourced prison service and the prisoners themselves. He encountered a "hierarchy that exists in a prison which is completely different and discovered that the things that you will do to yourself in prison to get the things that you need are utterly insane."


There's that many stories in a prison, especially a prison that isn't doing so well, that you're in a situation where you have to ask yourself, 'why am I here?'

 ”

From the little that Dewsbury was able to reveal about this project, it sounds fascinating. It also sounds controversial and he's expecting a lot of flak from those who don't like the idea that prisoners should be looked upon as human beings.

He's acutely conscious of television's track record at sensationalising subjects such as prison, and it's evident that he's fiercely protective of each of his projects' integrity. It's something he'll be even better equipped to do as his status rises. This is just as well as he is planning to focus on 'murder' for his next project.

In the meantime, by signing with 2AM Films, he's become available for TVCs for the first time and he's extremely excited at the prospect. Asked how he feels his filmmaking style will suit the advertising industry, he says: "It's always about storytelling, isn't it? And - from what I hear - advertising wants t tell real stories just now. That's what documentary is all about... the illusion of authenticity or the reality of it."

For more on Daniel Dewsbury, contact Aly Moffat on 020 7292 9600 or via email using aly@2amfilms.co.uk.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.