David Fussell had always dreamed about being a film director. While living in a small town in Wales and working as a mechanic, both of his parents died and the house he inherited from them flooded – that ended up costing him £90,000. Instead of dwelling on his misfortune, he saw the loss as an opportunity. Freedom. He decided to put his remaining money towards living out his dream by self-financing, writing, producing, directing and acting in the action-spy-horror movie he always wanted to make: Mystic Demon Killer. This decision eventually cost him a lot more than he had anticipated, including his home. It didn’t, however, dampen his spirits.
After shooting the film, while living in a van, he took a train to London with nothing but the clothes on his back and a rough cut of his film on a hard drive. Since coming to London, David has managed to build a network of supportive people and organisations who have helped him out in various ways to realise his vision. He has spent the past four and a half years sleeping rough outside a department store in central London by night, and editing his film by downloading some free editing software on a computer in the offices of a homeless shelter by day.
VICE followed David in the build up to the cinema premiere of his film. He took us on a tour of his London, showing us the places that have mattered in his journey. Producer/director Grant Armour and producer Kieran Nagre, of the team behind the VICE film, could tell almost immediately it was a story they wanted to share. “Most of the reporting on homelessness tends to be in numbers and percentages which is shocking but after a while you become desensitised to it,” Kieran says. “I hope David's story can help to humanise the issue.”
“Initially this was just going to be short-form piece,” Grant adds, “but from our meetings with David, he had a lot to say and his story was rich and complex. I decided we needed to follow a day in the life of David from when he woke up at 5AM, to going to various handouts, finding wifi spots where he can promote his film online, editing his film in a shelter with some software he downloaded for free, until he bedded down for the night.” Ultimately, both Grant and Kieran wanted to show the nuance that goes beyond either inadvertently dehumanising stats and demonising media reporting.
“As David talks about, homeless people are people, who can live ‘normal’ lives, and excel,” Kieran says. “A lot of the coverage around homeless people either casts them as victims or villains, hopeless addicts or scroungers and con artists. This fuels a stigma around them which builds negative preconceptions in people's minds, which in turn makes it easier for people to ignore the problem as something that isn't affecting them.”
And so, David’s optimism and determination helps to fill out the contours of a largely misunderstood reality. When asked what he hopes audiences take away from the film, Grant simply says: "I guess the main thing I’d want people to take away is that a more holistic approach is needed to help individuals out of their situation rather than current so-called system of universal credit. Also, that anyone who’s thought about making a film should just go make it and stay positive no matter what life throws at you." Scroll up to watch The Homeless Film Director, to see this in action.