Stephan Pierre Mitchell’s directorial debut, Deleted follows the last 5 hours of 59-year-old Ahmed Siddiqi Hussein’s life before he becomes homeless.
The 25-year old’s touching documentary highlights the ease at which Mr Hussein became homeless and the lack of help he received from the Department of Work and Pensions. Deleted exposes as Stephan says “the lack of humanity within failing British bureaucratic systems and campaigns for the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.”
Unfortunately, Mr Hussein passed away on the day Deleted got its first screening.
We spoke to Stephan about his film, his career and the legacy Amhed left behind …
Introduce yourself, who are you and what defines you…
I am an actor and filmmaker. What defines me is a big question but I have put it under one word – authenticity. Staying true to myself and being authentic in every day of my life. I think I’m defined by so many wonderful things, family values, places I grew up, cultural influences, having a mum who is European, a dad who is black, and a Nigerian stepdad. My mixed-race heritage has taught me a lot and the way I view the world from both sides. But I come back to that word – authenticity, staying true to myself because it’s reflected in everything that I do.
What compelled you to make Deleted?
This film just happened. I’m interested in social issues that affect our communities and seeing this epidemic affecting our the most vulnerable of us who are dying on our streets across the United Kingdom.
How were you introduced to Mr Ahmed Siddiqi Hussein and what made you want to tell his story?
Mr Hussein knocked on my door one day asking me if I could spare him some food, he was my neighbour across the street. I was surprised to see how educated and articulate he was. He told me he’d been seeing me enter and leave my house and that he thought I was Asian; that he felt comfortable to ask for help. I got to know him better over a few months where he explained to me the difficulties he faced with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Tell us a bit about the research you did for Deleted?
I work with few charities in my spare time and came to learn every 2 weeks there’s a homeless person found dead on our streets. So I called the statistics office to get a rough idea of how many people are dying. Of course, the number was shocking but also the difficulty in accessing the DWP. I also looked into how our European neighbours, in particular, Scandinavian countries deal with homelessness. At the moment homelessness is almost gone in those countries by having eco-friendly houses built for them and their governments’ support of the most vulnerable people in comparison to the UK.
Did any surprising revelations come out when documenting?
There weren’t any big surprise revelations, but one thing that stood out for me is how homeless people even in their hardest times have a sense of sharing and they all seem at peace under the stars, yet not knowing what tomorrow will bring which is scary for them; they’d seen it all.
Who is this film aimed at?
The filmed is aimed pretty much at everyone, from the younger to older audience and to remind people that anyone could be homeless no matter what their background.
This is a crucial story people can forget that homeless people were not always homeless, they had lives before the streets and that most do not choose to be in their positions, how do you think homeless people can be helped?
Homelessness in the UK is a very complex situation. I think it starts with us at home. Let’s keep an eye on our loved ones by checking on them. When people are rejected they turn to all sorts; drinking, drugs, divorce in the case of Mr Hussein and it goes back to their mental state. We need to show support. The NHS mental health department is a disaster in my opinion and that would need time and investment to fix. The support is very poor with little follow up on patients when they are out in the community. I say this from personal experience and seeing my good friend who had it all going for her in the fashion industry. She was in and out of mental hospitals and when she was out she was left alone with no follow up which resulted in her being homeless. The DWP are also a big part of the problem in getting access or support, so we can see the problem is huge and how people end up on the streets.
One thing that stood out for me while watching the documentary is when Mr Hussein said “Before the system deletes me I will delete myself from the system“, this is such a powerful statement do you think this is a feeling that resonates with many in the homeless community?
Absolutely. I agree that the whole homelessness community feels the same. Looking back at the rejection they probably faced at home, but also through the NHS and at The DWP, both places you should be supported, they find them difficult to access and are humiliated by the bureaucratic system in place. Homeless people have no choice but to sentence themselves to the streets, yet we’re supposed to be a First World Country.
The documentary is very moving and speaks volumes about how easy a person’s life can spiral out of control due to a lack of support. The DWP and the government have a lot to answer for but nothing seems to be getting better. What do you think we as citizens in the UK can do to support people in such dire circumstances? How do we get our government to listen?
We as citizens need to pay more attention to our homeless people. Let’s be less judgemental as to why they are on the streets and support as much as we can either through charity work or just acknowledging they are there acting in kindness, not to turn a blind eye. 2 years before filming Deleted I was on the tube when a homeless man stopped in front of me asking for money. As I was looking for change I started a conversation with him and at the end of it, he took my hand and thanked me for talking to him and looking into his eyes. That will stick with me for a long time, so when I started filming Deleted I decided to cut every other interview but use unconventional shots to pay attention and listen to our homeless people.
Every shot was done in a way to take the audience into Mr Hussein’s soul, almost allowing the audience to inspect him like the DWP with those extreme close-ups. I go back to the word authenticity, and to myself as a filmmaker, I might not be capturing the pretty pictures that the industry might want but one thing is for sure audiences never get it wrong and I knew that the shots would serve Mr Hussein. The power of documentaries is to educate, to make a change, to move people. To go back to your question as Mr Hussein said, “ We might start as a whisper, but we can end up roaring if we work together”. We need to do our part to support, to keep the conversation going to spark a change in government legislation when it comes to accessing funds.
At the end of my festival tour, I will be releasing Deleted on Amazon, iTunes and other platforms with proceeds going to the Evening Standard Homeless Fund. More details to be revealed later in the year about the official release with a special screening before the release date.
What was it like for you to film this documentary personally?
It was an emotional experience, there were moments I asked myself if I could have done better to help. Mr Hussein was not one to ask for help, the last time I saw him was in February 2019 when he knocked on my door and I just had my last version of the film and he got to watch it. We both cried, laughed and his reply was “You made me look F***ing… beautiful, imagine this film with my face being played in a cinema.” So when Deleted got selected at SOULFest BFI it was special. For the last 20 years every Saturday he spent the day at Southbank, The BFI & National Theatre and indeed his face was on that big screen, so it gives me peace to know that I keep his voice and legacy alive.
As a young creative what is your mission?
To be authentic. When we are true and authentic to our creations, it connects with the audience and relates to people, the world is the essence of cinema.
What about your own journey, how did you get into filmmaking?
My own journey started from probably the age of 4. I would perform, get up on tables and be silly entertaining my friends. By the age of 8, I had my first camera and started filming our family holidays, birthdays and Christmas parties and at the end of these events, I presented my family with the footage as mini-films. One day my mum made me watch this film “Nostalgia” by Andrei Tarkovsky. It changed everything for me, I said: “I will make films one day”. As an actor watching Denzel Washington, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Anthony Hopkins to now Mahershala Ali and my extended influences from music artists like Kendrick and Stormzy. The business aspect and ownership of my destiny and creation as an artist is definitely influenced by Jay Z & Beyonce, to photography from the legend himself Peter Lindbergh. So I refer to my work as chicken soup. You have the chickens as my characters and all the ingredients as all these influences but how I mix them makes my own practice.
What is next for you?
I’m about to embark on my next film, this time a narrative short that looks at how men deal with rejection in love, but using comedy and a lot of visual art. This time I’m not only behind the camera but also in front of it. This film is women-led from incredible young black comedy writers to the editor, art director, costume etc. all women. It is important that as a content creator I make sure to play my part when it comes to diversity. This film is very personal for me and highlights a lot of the issues of modern dating.
The film is about two people who meet on Tinder for a one night stand and she falls pregnant. Both agree to keep the child but 5 years later he’s still madly in love with her, but unfortunately, they both settle for a plastic relationship, she settles for a dildo and pornography and he settles for a live human doll. When it comes to us men, we don’t often run to our best mates to cry or talk about how disappointed we are when our hearts are broken, rather we put on a show and mask our feelings that everything is fine.
No matter how much the heart breaks it reshapes back to normal, we are lucky to be able to adapt to new relationships, so that’s the name of my next film “Reshaped“. Filming starts in April.