NFTS doc tracks Sodiq’s fall from dreams of being a doctor to serving 30 years for murder

Tonight (13 December) my NFTS graduation film will be shown to MPs in parliament followed by a discussion about gang culture.

Sodiq documents the search for a young man from a Peckham housing estate who dreamed of becoming a doctor but five years later was convicted of murder.

Sodiq was my friend. We grew up on that estate together and it was because of him that we set up a football team to give boys something to belong to other than a gang. It’s also because of him that I was able to realise my dream of getting into the NFTS to become a documentary film-maker.

In 2008, as part of a university project, I started making a film celebrating the success of the football team in Sodiq’s life – I didn’t realise it would turn out to be such a tragic film.

At that time, our team had gone from losing every match to winning the local league two years running. We were on a high and as I left to focus on film school, Sodiq was planning to become a doctor and applying for college.

An early version of the documentary helped me get into the NFTS. When I came back to finish the film, I couldn’t understand how it had all gone so wrong. Sodiq, aged 20, is now staring at a 30-year jail sentence in Feltham Young Offenders Institution for murder.

The teenager who died was Sylvester Akapalara, who’d been to the same school as Sodiq and was a very promising athlete. Both he and Sodiq had dreams but both got caught up in street life.

Why did it happen? It’s complicated. When you are involved in the streets, you’re given a new name, a new identity and you start losing touch with reality – you lose touch with yourself. You get to the point where even if you want to turn back, you can’t go back to your other life. For me it was different I was very strong headed growing up and wasn’t prepared to be like everyone else, I wanted to keep my identity, my dreams were bigger than street fame of Peckham.

I’m not a campaigner, I’m a filmmaker, but telling the story in a sophisticated way was important to me. I wanted people to see the person behind the headlines, the boy behind the label. Street life takes away your identity but so do labels like gang member or drug dealer or murderer. What makes Sodiq so different from you or me?

The purpose of this documentary is to discover what the turning point was in Sodiq’s life and how this is a microcosm of wider societal issues in Britain today.

It never occurred to me that I could craft a film that would be shown in parliament and affect people’s view of society. It has been a rites of passage film for me – I needed to make this. And the story’s not nearly over yet. Sodiq’s appeal is yet to be heard.

Adeyemi is an NFTS documentary graduate.