Our hosts Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir chatted to filmmakers David Midell and Enrico Natale. 

They are the team behind the film The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain. A heartbreaking story of the events that led to the tragic death of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., an elderly African American veteran with bipolar disorder, during a conflict with police officers who were sent to check on him.

“This film is so much more than just another movie,” says Enrico. “It’s a true story of a life that came to an end. We feel that weight, as filmmakers, to make sure that the story gets heard and seen, and we feel a tremendous amount of pressure to do everything in our power to get the story out there.”

Enrico and David had made contact with the Chamberlain family after they had learned of the killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. “We felt very strongly about telling the story, but as the years have gone on and we’ve worked with Kenneth Chamberlain Jr, we have a deep love and admiration and respect for what he’s done. His voice in the social justice community is so incredibly important.”

Keeping it Real

For Enrico, the film was a testament to what he and David had wanted. “David had a vision from the very beginning of what this film was going to be. He was very clear… gritty and realistic. And he stuck to his guns. And I think in the editing process that became very clear. We worked very hard to feel the pace from start to finish.

You feel Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. sludging around the house, moving very slowly and the shots depict that. And as it gets further into the movie, you start rapid-fire cutting until that end sequence, which was just a nightmare to edit. The feeling of anxiety that it puts you through. We wanted to capture what it might be to be Chamberlain Sr. at that moment.”

Making Meaningful Movies

David said that it had been a long journey. “We started working on it in 2017. That was when the initial kernel of the idea started to germinate and the script developed out of the conversations that I was having with the Chamberlain family, particularly Kenneth Chamberlain Jr.”

They shot the film in 2018 and premiered at festivals in 2019, but most of their festival appearances were in 2020 which “was meaningful because, in the middle of our festival run, George Floyd was killed.

The film certainly had significance to all of us before that. But I think it took on a greater significance and we felt even more of a sense of responsibility than we did before to make sure that this story gets out there and that we are telling it in the most respectful, honest way that we can.”

Mental Health in Film

Making this film has been very personal for David, who is on the spectrum himself. He has also worked with people with emotional and behavioural disorders. And before filmmaking, was a special education teacher.

“I found Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.’s story online. And it resonated with me personally. And the more research that I did on what happened to Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., the more I realized that these officers were completely misguided and ill-prepared in their approach to interacting with somebody who is suffering from a mental health crisis. 

I’ve been through extensive crisis management training and I’ve been involved in crisis situations with people with mental health challenges and emotional and behavioural disorders. And I’ve seen them get resolved very smoothly and safely, where nobody gets hurt. And I’ve seen them spiral completely out of control. And it was very clear that obviously, that’s what happened in this circumstance because the first responders were not prepared.”

After his research, David reached out to the Chamberlain family, and the script was developed from information, depositions and briefs that their attorney had written. “He was able to send me a lot of that information. The script was really derived from the conversations that I was having with him, as well as the documentation that was available about the incident.”

Sharing Sensitive Information

“With any film, that’s based on a true story, we obviously had to fill in some of the gaps with our imagination. We decided to fictionalize all of the officers from a legal and artistic perspective.”

And even when they started filming, they didn’t release anything to the public or press, because they weren’t sure how the police would react to it. Enrico said that they had reached out to the police but that they “didn’t want anything to do with us. Our job wasn’t to try to villanize police officers, our job was to tell the story and in this story, what they did was wrong. They were there to check on his wellness and he’s dead. And there’s really no other way to look at that besides putting those two statements together. You can’t go to check on someone’s wellness and kill them.”

How It Got Started

David and Enrico knew each other from college. And after David sent the script over, Enrico called him back immediately to set up a meeting. “I set up a time the next day to meets and three months later we were shooting. It happened very quickly because it was really powerful.” 

At that point, Enrico had been talking to investors about some projects, but they hadn’t really been interested in the other’s that he had. They had mentioned that they wanted to invest in something meaningful. 

“I read (the script from David) and immediately sent it. And of course, they were floored because it was very powerful as a script too. I’ve produced a lot, so I put the wheels in motion and moved immediately. We sped right into it and we cast very quickly. We got our locations and we found Frankie pretty quickly too.”

Getting Morgan Freeman Involved

The film was made, and they had won at every festival that they’d attended when one of their exec producers sent the project to Revelations Entertainment, Morgan Freeman’s company with Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi. “They all watched the movie and were blown away. They told us that when Morgan watched the movie, his response was: ‘Holy moly. Do what you can to give me a part of this film.’

And he’s been such a great voice for us, being able to get a lot more press, and that was exactly what we wanted him to do because we needed help to amplify the story.”

You can listen to more from David and Enrico, or find out more about The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlainhere.

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