BFI Future Film Festival series: Keiran Stringfellow

Bulldog (Dir. Kieran Stringfellow). Source: BFI

One thing about the pandemic – it’s easy to lose perspective. Amidst my stroppy angst about being cooped up in my own four walls again, I’m ashamed to admit I completely overlooked what lockdown might feel like if you had no four walls at all. 

It’s not, however, a thought that has escaped filmmaker Kieran Stringfellow, a 25 year-old from West Yorkshire who appears to have his head a lot more screwed on than yours truly. 

Bulldog, which premiered last month at the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Future Film Festival, is Kieran’s gripping short film about a homeless man who has just spent a night in the cells. While it doesn’t directly address the impact of the pandemic, there’s a subtext to this piece that right now is hard to avoid.

“I became aware of the prevalence of homelessness in Manchester when I moved here a few years ago,” explains Kieran. “And the homeless community have probably been ignored the most in this pandemic. While everyone is in their houses, this group of people are out on the streets.”

The film opens with the main character, played by Louis Brogan (pictured), bandaging up his hands, gathering his belongings and walking through the streets of a brooding Manchester. The throbbing soundtrack builds and it’s a guessing game about what the protagonist will do next, and who will be on the receiving end of the hammer he’s just shoplifted. I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s probably not what you think.

“A film about homeless people could have been quite cliched. I wanted to make something that challenges our assumptions,” says Kieran. “With the casting, I knew we couldn’t have an old man with a big straggly beard or show him begging or what not. It would have dehumanised the whole thing. There’s a lot of young people on the streets in Manchester, they are normal people, and I wanted to portray that.”

It’s no surprise that Bulldog feels distinctly northern, a very conscious decision on Kieran’s part. “I’ve fallen in love with Manchester since I’ve been here. It was always going to be the second character. I wanted to showcase both the beauty of the city but also the bleakness of it – the darker, more lonely side.”

Kieran’s next project is a personal piece about his upbringing and his relationship with his young, single mum. As a self-proclaimed working-class filmmaker, Kieran believes the industry could do more to encourage young people like him to pursue film as a career.

“Film-making can feel like a very privileged world. We need to raise awareness amongst kids from working class backgrounds that this is something they can do. When I was growing up it wasn’t a thing, it wasn’t something that was offered to me, and I didn’t find out about it till I got to college. We need to change that.”

Kieran has enjoyed the exposure Bulldog has had as part of the BFI Future Film Festival, which champions young filmmakers from across the country. In particular, he’s enjoyed seeing the feedback come through on film buff app Letterboxd, and the opportunity to connect with audiences and other filmmakers, even if it is in the virtual world. 

But like many of us, he still misses the ritual of a night at the cinema and awaits its re-opening eagerly. “Ah I miss it so much. That dark room is the best place to be. The trailers, talking about it on the way home, I miss all of that. I always get there really early so I can try and get the middle seat. And I make sure that I’ve had enough loo breaks beforehand because I hate missing any of the film, it does my head in.”

Thankfully, at six and a half minutes, there’s no danger of needing a loo break with this piece, but Bulldog is an effective reminder of the power of cinema to take us out of ourselves for a moment. Definitely a film, and a young talent, to watch.

Bulldog is screening at the Manchester Film Festival later this month.