Thursday, 3 November 2011

Projects of Passion: September Event - 'The Strange Death of Harry Stanley' Premiere

By Sarah Olley

If there’s one thing I’ve been discussing a lot recently then its passion projects. For some there are stories that just have to be told because they mean so much. Whether it’s a campaigning film, a world you want to reveal, a moment in time you’re driven to recreate, or a book that’s stayed with you that you must get to the screen - I’ve been very lucky recently to be working and meeting with people about their feature film projects of passion.

In this blisteringly competitive business, where most stories never see the light of day, passion is, of course, a vital commodity. You’re going to be slaving for a very long time to get your project to the screen, so you’d better really love it. People can see it in your eyes, it’s infectious and a driving passion can be the power that turns one project into a living breathing reality while another one languishes and dies. For emerging writers it’s all about finding the stories they’re most passionate to tell and the same should be true for us developers and producers.

Often this type of film is driven by a need to bring to light something that has been forgotten or passed over, something that people need and want to know about. The Strange Death of Harry Stanley is one such short film and its premiere was the subject of our drinks in September. We headed to The Roxy cinema on Borough High Street to see the film by writer/director Jeremiah Quinn – longstanding In Development member.

On 22nd September 1999, Harry Stanley, 46, walked into a Hackney pub with a table leg he'd taken to his brother’s house to repair. The people in the pub thought the table leg was a sawn-off shotgun. They rang the police who came and shot Harry in the back. The two policemen were acquitted and claimed that Harry had turned and raised the table leg as if to take aim at them.

This story stuck with Jeremiah, enough for him to seek out Irene Stanley, (Harry’s widow), years later and gain her approval of the project. It may have stuck with you too, simply with the question; how the hell did this happen? Jeremiah’s film is not a reconstruction, but an imagining of Harry’s last day, his thoughts and feelings at a time when he was recovering from a serious illness and particularly savouring life. Its intention is to play with the idea of how the truth can be twisted and confused.

After the screening there was a panel discussion featuring Irene Stanley, Jeremiah and Helen Shaw (director of Inquest). They answered audience questions on the events after Harry’s death and the progress of the campaign to bring the truth to light. Harry was an ordinary man, he wasn’t acting in a threatening or disturbed manner, his accent was Scottish, not Irish, as was reported by the person calling the police. There are still plenty of justifiably angry people who would, at the very least, like an apology for this awful, life shattering mistake. They would also like to see changes in the system which still allows police officers to pool their recollections before reporting their actions. These campaigners include Terry Stewart from Justice for Harry Stanley who added his input on the mic.

That evening we retired to the Kings Head for post screening drinks and the next morning Jeremiah and Irene Stanley appeared on the Sky morning news to talk about the film and try to throw some more of the public spotlight on Harry Stanley’s unresolved story. It was because Harry's story had disappeared in the news that Jeremiah was first driven to bring it to the screen. There are hopes that this short film can do something to support the Harry Stanley campaign, so we watch this space. For now you can read more about the campaign here and view the film trailer here.

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