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If Phil Dunn isn’t a name you’re overly-familiar with right now, that could soon change. With adulation for his latest short The Stupid Boy going global, a BAFTA entry recently submitted as well as Oscar qualification, it’s fair to say that the Brixton-based filmmaker’s career is very much on the up.
It’s likely he’ll be going up against Wes Anderson, no less, for next year’s Academy Award, but as Phil himself puts it in typically laid-back fashion, “it’s just great to be in the conversation.”
A lot of why he finds himself in such exalted company is surely down to his refreshingly different and honest take on the movie industry; then again, studying Medicine followed by Theology is hardly an orthodox route. “For me, as an independent filmmaker making it up as I go along, I don’t really feel part of the industry at all,” he says. “I feel like I’m working for the film.”
Short movies have really taken off over the last decade, so it’s not easy to stand out from the crowd; yet that’s exactly what The Stupid Boy does. It’s heart-racing and heart-warming in equal measure, which is quite some achievement in less than fifteen minutes. It’s also easier to follow and a lot clearer in what it’s trying to do than some of its contemporaries. A lot tend to leave you guessing but almost as if it’s just for the sake of being cryptic. Consequently, you’re glad they’re short-lived affairs, whereas this leaves you wishing it was longer.
On that note, does Phil himself have feature-length ambitions? “It’s definitely what I’m aiming for now. I’ve fallen in love with the language of cinema. I think of Martin Scorsese and those who use every single bit of image, colour of cinema to convey something. In a scene where a character’s holding a glass of water, they’re not just holding a glass of water.”
I’ve fallen in love with the language of cinema.
And it would seem audiences have fallen in love with Phil. His own production company, Authentic, was formed back in 2005 as a means to make corporate videos for a fast-growing client base. He released his first film, Box Office Smash, in 2018, followed by About two years later. The Stupid Boy has taken things to the next level, as a finalist at this year’s Manhattan Short Film Festival, which secured the Oscar-qualifying Hollywood run, part of 500 screenings across all continents except the big icy one.
But how did the project first come about? The horrific terrorist attacks that took place in London, also in 2005, proved to be part of the inspiration for a film that was made only last year. Even more telling are the historical figures who provided the rest. “I remember like everyone else, thinking ‘what would happen if I’d been in that position?’ Most of us would run away in terror,” Phil recalls. “I’d been reading all these amazing accounts, from Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and the idea of hugging an attacker came from that.”
So how would an Oscar statue look on the mantelpiece? Many artists, whether it be in film, music or any kind of art form can downplay awards and become boringly blasé about the subject. Not so Phil. “I find them encouraging,” he enthuses. “They say to me that here’s a piece of paper saying a bunch of people were moved by your work, and that you’re on the right track.”
Looking at the clutch of gongs The Stupid Boy has landed, Phil definitely is. Whether he’ll go on to have a career to rival that of Wes Anderson himself, only time will tell. It would be brave to bet against that, and maybe even Oscar success next year.