Interview with Filmmaker Samuel Douek (JUS + LIKE ME)

JUS + LIKE ME was the winner of BEST FILM at the March 2020 LGBT Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Samuel Douek: Tom Falck the producer approached me about making a film about Phil Dzwonkiewicz, the HIV activist who was competing in Mr Gay UK 2018 and was starting an HIV awareness campaign in a new era of complacency around AIDS given the rise in anti-retroviral treatment and it was an opportunity i couldn’t refuse combining my background in documentary filmmaking and my investment in the LGBTQ+ community.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I first met Phil and conducted several amazing interviews in late August. We then planned a 4 day shoot across three weekend in September / October where we would travel to his family home on the coast, see him in action volunteering, and counting down to the deadline of hosting a panel discussion and a fundraising event where he would launch his campaign. We went straight into the edit throughout November and the film premiered on World Aids Day on 1st December 2018

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

HIV Awareness

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Wanting to sensitively capture someone’s personal experience of contracting and living with HIV without victimising them. We have come along was since the panic of the early 80s AIDS epidemic and life expectancy of people living with the virus is the same as anyone else. It was important for me for this not to be a film that induces pity but one that empowers and supports the HIV community.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was emotional for me to see the feedback video! Especially watching people across the pond. It’s heartwarming to know that people can engage with the story internationally and that everyone can empathise with Phil’s experience.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Tom Falck the producer was the initial brain behind the idea but was very supportive of my ideas. For me, i wanted this to be a docu-fantasy, blurring the lines between real life and performance. Phil is a dancer and dance became a central visual theme that helped capture the emotion of the story.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I’ve watched Terry Gilliam’s Brazil about 7000 times.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s a fantastic platform. Filmmaking is such a time consuming process and to have every festival in one place makes submitting to various events easy!

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

According to Spotify, Ariana Grande – God is a Woman

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I have just finished another short docu-fantay called STONEWALL 2069 that looks 50 years into forward to ask what will the queer future look like? It was made in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and will come out on BBC iplayer soon! I am also working on a bunch of music videos and my first narrative short which is a dark LGBTQ+ comedy.

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