The second film in ITV’s doc strand, Fresh Cuts, for rising Black filmmakers, is Jessicah North’s film, Black Boys Can Cry with Alex Beresford.
Alex Beresford goes on a journey that he hopes will help him understand why the suicide of his best friend, Martin, was part of a shocking statistic that sees Black men are far more likely to suffer from a severe mental health issue than others. Alex meets mental health experts and a wide range of Black men to get to the root of the problem. Hoping ultimately to learn how being Black, male and British can be damaging to a person’s mental health and what is being done to find solutions.
Jessicah North explains how the film came together.
I’ve always wanted to make something focused on Mental Health. I was sectioned as a young person in a camhs unit and got my first job in television three months after an overdose. So, it’s a subject that I have had a lot of intersections with. I’ve always wanted to push the message that we need to have the same level of urgency towards mental health as we do physical health. I was staggered by the statistics revealing that suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in this country. This unsettling reality became the focal point of my exploration, aiming to dissect this statistic and seek avenues for improvement. My favourite documentaries have always been those that ignite conversations, provoke thought, or spark real change, and I will continuously strive to achieve this in my own filmmaking career.
I developed the bulk of the idea ahead of the Fresh Cuts Initial pitch. I always had a strong idea of what story I wanted to tell. The next step involved tailoring it for ITV and honing its focus to Men’s Mental Health within the Black diaspora, as the film was slated for release during Black History Month. This is when Alex Beresford became a pivotal addition as our presenter. Given his personal connection to the subject, having lost a close friend to suicide, I believed he would offer an authentic voice to lead the conversation on such a vital topic. My team reached out to him, and he resonated with the subject matter, eagerly agreeing to participate.
The process of selecting my presenter and contributors began during my initial two weeks at ITV, relying heavily on research. It was crucial to showcase a diverse range of Black men to underscore that Mental Health can impact anyone. The exception to this was my B story Shocka. I had met Shocka a few years ago on the set of a music video shoot I was directing for an autistic rapper. We connected over shared mental health experiences, both having experience with sectioning. I was struck by his openness, positivity and tenacity. It felt so special that someone from the infamous Broadwater farm estate was so candid when talking about mental health, and growing up in a similar environment I felt his story could affect positive change. When the opportunity to tell the story of men’s mental health came about, I felt he would be the perfect person to tell a current contemporary story on the subject.
In my initial interview, I pitched the idea directly to two commissioners, the head of current affairs, and the ITV diversity team. I spoke about the significance of Men’s mental health in the UK, explaining why it was a crucial narrative to share especially right now. I also highlighted how my personal experiences uniquely equipped me to tackle this subject.
I wanted to achieve a few things with this film, I wanted to shine a spotlight on an incredibly important topic, dismantle societal taboos around Mental Health, educate the audience, and most importantly, make black boys and men suffering with their mental health feel seen.
The turnaround time for a Mental Health documentary, with all the necessary duty of care considerations, was incredibly tight. We had just five weeks to handle everything, including development, pre-production, and filming. This feat could have felt impossible without the unwavering support of my exceptional team. From the production crew to my researcher and producer, it was a true collective effort from the very beginning
I aspired to maintain a high production quality despite working with a limited budget. I wanted the film to feel authentic, as if the audience were actively participating in the conversations. I was cautious not to make it overly polished, as I wanted viewers to connect with the documentary on a personal level, recognizing the issues and stories as genuine and relatable to their own lives.
The editing process was thankfully smooth. I had an amazing editor, who had a great grip on the story but also continued to allow for my voice to be reflected. The difficulty was being able to tell the whole story in 46 minutes. There was so much gold we couldn’t include due to time constraints, which made it feel as though we were only scratching the surface of this expansive topic.
Black Boys Can Cry with Alex Beresford goes out on ITV1 this Sunday (Oct 8th) at 22:40 and is on ITVX
Jessicah North pic: Daniel John
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