What to do for an encore?
My first take on the Hu.mans documentary three-part series, around real life mental health traumas, was a short gritty New York City tale, around personal experiences of urban struggle and survival. I knew I wanted to do something completely different outside my wheelhouse, and something bespoke for new audiences to see - hard-hitting realism.
Even by New York standards I had heard that the London gay scene had a dubious reputation for its hard drug fueled "chillouts" and sex parties. Events which were much easier to facilitate with the proliferation of social hook up apps. With this somewhat dangerous way of living, I had to investigate to see what it was all about.
Going in I had an almost naïve knowledge of party drugs. Coming from a sports background the extent of my "partake" was the odd puff or two of weed which admittedly did nothing for me and the most any of my friends had taken on nights out had been Ecstasy which at most made them "happy" and "touchy-feely". In my research it wasn't uncommon to hear from my London contacts on how they had lost several friends to overdoes in just the space of a year.
From fascination in this space, I was introduced to David Stuart through a friend whom I l found out was a big deal in London as a leader in the Chemsex substance abuse awareness arena. He certainly was one of the most interesting people I have had the pleasure of working beside. I wanted to tell his story not through the prism of the substance abuse phenomena but an intimate story on the effects of drugs in the gay lifestyle, its traumas, events and consequences.
The biggest initial hurdle was gaining his trust as he was quite reticent in sharing his story with me. The impact and conflict it might have had with his job with 56 Dean St Sexual Health Clinic, and his role in the excellent Viceland's "Chemsex" documentary, and even just the thought of airing out deeply kept secrets, was daunting enough.
It's no exaggeration to say that David had a hard life. With his father murdering his mother and committing suicide on the same day and all before his 6th birthday it's no wonder he had a hard time finding his place. And like many gay youth before him looking for acceptance but getting sucked into the lifestyle, he got caught up in the often usual cycle of drugs and sex culminating in him contracting HIV at age 20 back in the 80's when there were no drugs and it was pretty much a death sentence.
As he states in the documentary ... "with a three-year prognosis of only getting progressively sicker and dying the best things to do was just take more drugs".
It could be argued that a lack of self-worth contributed to his continued use of recreational drugs, even after antiretroviral treatments appeared in the market and his health dramatically improved.
This is also true today in the millennial and insta-age where the coda seems to be "fit in or get out" or even the fear of missing out.
In my research on just how easy it was to find drugs or get invited to these random drug fuels events, I found that all one needed to do is peruse hook up apps like Grindr, Scruff and the like. Profiles were rife with codes with capitalised alphabets in profile names or text referring to drug of choice or use of certain emojis like the Diamond icon which refers to Chrystal meth use.
With Gay Pride around the corner, pushing awareness around the LGBT scene is incredibly important. Not only is the Hu.mans documentary fitting to all LGBT's, because it does provide one silver lining to David's dire situation, but it also delivers personal experiences in order to open the eyes of young individuals in the LGBT community. With David's experience being a revolving door of addiction and sobriety and even losing the sight in one eye, the moral of the story is: if you want change bad enough it can happen.
With time, David has now conquered his demons and leads a fulfilling life. He is a main advocate for sober sex and is an inspiration to all. And to those who think there is no hope...
Hu.mans: David Stuart is currently in Film Festival competition with a general release in September.
Chidi Nobi's other work can be viewed on his website at www.cnobi.com