Melanie Manchot / Storbritannien / 2023

Stephen Giddings, the film's central character, is a recovering addict who grew up with addictions all around him. At 26 he was giving up on life. STEPHEN is an experimental hybrid documentary that is structured as a film-within-a-film. The film takes us on an intimate journeys into two characters as Stephen auditions for and takes on a role while transforming his life in the real world.

STEPHEN tells the story of Stephen (Ste) Giddings working on maintaining recovery while embarking on an emotionally taxing challenge, to ‘become’ the fictional character of an obsessive gambler in a movie production. This film-within-the-film is a genre crime movie, inspired by a famous Mitchell & Kenyon film, held at BFI archive: Arrest of Goudie, 1901, the first ever crime-reconstruction and the first film produced in Liverpool, Ste’s home-town and this film’s principle location.

STEPHEN is based on an ongoing relationship of trust: the director previously worked with Ste for her video work Twelve, 2015 made with 12 recovering addicts, during which Ste discovered his passion and talent for acting. Critically acclaimed, Twelve toured internationally.

Reconstruction, re-enactment and portraiture are continuous themes in Manchot’s art practice. Referring to feature documentaries such as the Taviani’s Cesar Must Die and the recent Casting Jon Benet, the documentary is structured around the fictional production of a movie, for which Ste auditions and in which he gets a role.

Ste’s early life was surrounded by substance misuse. He is part of a family of addicts stretching back generations. He lost his mother to alcoholism. He has lived with violence – in those around him, and his own when in active addiction. While focusing on one character, the film touches on urgent and universal questions: how do we construct a meaningful life and realise our best potentials? Can we transform, develop and shape our identities?

STEPHEN brings together real characters from Ste’s life, such as his brother who is still in addiction, alongside ‘amateur’ actors and professional actors, all with lived experience of addiction. Filmed with one consistent cinematic vision it is through the dynamics of trained/untrained characters and actors that the film elicits raw and powerful performances.

This story is urgent because more young people are affected by addictions – disillusioned by a rapidly changing society, which they struggle to find a place within. Gambling addictions are the fastest rising internationally and often go undetected.