By Pierangelly Del Rio
2017 saw the rise of acclaimed LGBT movies such as Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country and the award-winning Moonlight. Similarly, it was a winning year for mental health awareness with the #HereForYou and UOKM8? Inviting people to open up about their mental struggles and asking for support an understanding.
Dale John Allen is a Manchester-based filmmaker challenging the stigma surrounding mental health illness and exploring the social politics of representation within the LGBT community. Through his upcoming short-film, Don’t Blame Jack, Dale merges the two topics in an honest story about learning self-love and acceptance. Dale sat down with aAh! to talk about the journey of conceiving the story, the personal experiences that inspired it and a crowdfunding campaign to make it happen.
Dale describes Don’t Blame Jack as a semi-autobiographical short film based on bipolar disorder and how this affects a person’s everyday life.
“It’s not completely autobiographical”, he reiterates. “It’s only based on my own experiences that merge to create a short story.”
When asked about the distinctive title, Dale is happy to explain how the idea came to him from a song written by his musician friend, Jordan Bradley. Bradley composed the song when Dale was going through a difficult mental health time.
“He referred to that side of me as “Jack” and his song is pleading with people to not take to heart what I do when I’m in that state, and not blame me, don’t blame Jack.”
The process behind the conception of Don’t Blame Jack was rich and complex as Dale explains it traces back to the time when he used to document his life on a journal after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder with the intention to take a look back at his recovery. The experience led to the making of the award-winning short film, A Film About Love, recognised in 2016 by Art with Impact in New Renaissance Film Festival.
The short film, conceived in a day, consisted of a personal and experimental project in which Dale mostly speaks in front of the camera.
“It triggered me to create films about this topic,” he explains. “I’ve been always writing autobiographical stuff and it just felt like the only thing I could write about. So I believe is authentic.”
The trajectory from making A Film About Love to starting an ambitious project such as Don’t Blame Jack has been marked by change and growth as a filmmaker. Dale reflects himself in the vast difference between the two projects. “This one [Don’t Blame Jack] is so well thought in how it’s been written, and it has been re-written and re-written, and workshopped with actors. It’s the first time I’ve worked with actors and yes, the process is very different because before, with A Film About Love, I was thinking more of a piece for me rather than for an audience. Whereas this film is trying to take that story and translate it to an audience so they can relate to in a more personal level.”
The magnitude of this project has required more investment of time and, to the date, a manuscript of 40 pages has been finished and the official cast announcements have been made on the film’s official social media channels. Actor Jordan Tweedle plays the leading man, Jack, and Brighton-based drag queen Lydia L’Scabies will also feature in the film.
“We’ve still got a couple of roles to cast but it’s a very minimal film,” Dale explains. “It doesn’t need lots and lots of cast members. It’s all about Jack and we follow him and his story.”
Having a character that shares similarities and experiences with a director might seem as something complicated to translate into the script. However, for Dale, the process was all about spending time with Jordan so they would get to know each other while going through the script.
“I feel us being together is great so he can get to know me, not as a character he’s playing but as somebody,” Dale comments it’s not just about himself. “I want him to be able to separate the character from me but I want him to be able to put his own experiences and his own characterisation.”
Through the character Jack, both Jordan as an actor and Dale as a filmmaker, portray an emotional and deep, personal journey. Acclaimed LGBT films such as the romantic drama Weekend were key inspirations.
“It’s so intimate and you forget you’re watching a movie and you feel like you’re just watching these two people interact and I love that way of filmmaking and that’s come across in Don’t Blame Jack.”
Another inspiration was 2017 God’s Own Country: “That film has little dialogue in it and I watched and I just kind of crossed lots and lots of stuff from my script and just tried to tell the story in a similar way with lots of visual styles and just creating that emotion visually rather than just have these characters speak everything out.”
When asked how Don’t Blame Jack will differentiate from these films and bring something fresh to the screen, Dale answers: “Because I made it. I wrote it and I experienced it.”
Despite the fact that, in recent years, mental health has gained recognition; Dale admits there aren’t many people being open about their mental illnesses, neither being so open about their sexuality and how these two intertwine with each other.
“I think many people within the LGBT community struggle with mental health disorders because one in four people are diagnosed with depression and one in ten people are gay.”
“A lot of LGBT films focus on coming out and finding love or being accepted. Whereas Don’t Blame Jack is past that time in a way, and is looking inwards and trying to accept that part of yourself.”
After the warm reception of A Film About Love, — with the public having opened about their personal struggles — Dale hopes to have a similar impact. He stresses the film is not positive in itself, but it transforms a difficult topic into a positive experience. If he had to describe the project in a word, he would choose “honesty.”
He adds, “The film itself is very honest and true to what I felt. But in being that honest is a positive thing because hopefully, people will say ‘I felt like that but is ok to feel like that’.”
As the film is still in the early stages of productions, Dale can’t think about the “what’s next”. At the moment, the main focus is on making the project happen for a release in 2019. However, the vision and purpose of Don’t Blame Jack remain clear.
“I think is really important that individual voices are heard and I can’t speak for the whole LGBT community and everyone with bipolar disorder but I can speak for myself and share my experiences and I think, I hope people will not empathise, but be more considerate to individuals who are part of these worlds. It’s hopeful and I think that’s what we need in the world we’re living it now.”
A fundraising campaign for Don’t Blame Jack can be found here. 10% of each donation will be given to The Amy Winehouse Foundation, with an additional 10% of each donation to be split between Mind Out and LGBT Foundation.