‘I knew I had to make a film about Stamford Hill’: Short movie now up for BAFTA award

Theo Barklem Biggs in Samuel-613

Theo Barklem Biggs in Samuel-613 - Credit: Archant

Filmmaker Billy Lumby experienced a “cultural head rush” when he moved near to Stamford Hill.

Billy on the film set

Billy on the film set - Credit: Archant

Mr Lumby was struck by the bearded ultra-Orthodox Jewish men dressed in fur hats and knee-high white socks living side-by-side with Hackney’s urban hipsters – also replete with beards.

He decided he would make a film about the neighbourhood, and after a year of immersing himself in the private community as much as was possible, the result was SAMUEL-613.

Now the powerful 15-minute short has been nominated for a Bafta short-film category and will air in cinemas up and down the country along with the others on the shortlist.

With The Inbetweeners’ Theo Barklem-Biggs playing the main character, 23-year-old Shmilu, the sensitive film depicts a young person feeling smothered by the confines of the tight-knit religious community of 30,000 Hasidic Jews, whose every daily act is dictated by 613 biblical commandments.

Billy Lumby

Billy Lumby - Credit: Archant

Yearning for more freedom and seduced by the idea of internet dating, Shmilu cuts off his payos (sidecurls), and moves into his own place where he gorges on bacon, experiments with alcohol and drugs and goes on a disastrous date.

To write the script, Billy spoke with young people who had left Stamford Hill, some of whom were gay or atheist, and who are now “off the derech” (OTD) – derech being Hebrew for “path”. While some are able to remain living on the fringes of the society, others find themselves completely ostracised, and his film depicts an extreme case.

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Billy said: “I’m sure it’s very stressful for some people. I saw it as a social issue that, for some people there, if you did want to leave and go your own way, you might not have had the education to equip yourself with doing that. Not just an education on an academic level or a work-based vocational level, but also on a cultural level as well.”

Billy is at pains to point out that he wanted to be fair and balanced towards the Hasidic community while standing up for some of the people who have had problems leaving it.

Billy Lumby with Theo Barklem-Biggs

Billy Lumby with Theo Barklem-Biggs - Credit: Archant

“Even though I don’t believe in a god in a traditional sense I’ve come to respect people with faiths a bit more through making the film,” he said.

“There are a lot of my own experiences channelled into the film – of mental illness and online dating. I couldn’t make it without making it partly autobiographical.”

Billy is now preparing to make a feature film about schizophrenia.

“There are a ridiculously small number of cases of people with schizophrenia being violent against others,” he said, “but that’s the only time it gets reported.

“People have this distorted view.

“It’s extremely disorientating and distressing for people. Iit’s a harrowing illness, but it’s not that 100 per cent of the time, either.”

The UK-wide screening of BAFTA Shorts 2016 starts on February 26