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'It's my first time at a film festival, and I almost didn't make it. I almost wasn't alive...'

21st May 2013

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Amongst the recognisable faces at Cannes this year is m.a.double, a filmmaker whose history might set him apart from the rest.

After all, being kidnapped twice in one day, the first time by his best friend, the second by his business partner, is unlikely to be something that he has in common with the majority of those tripping down the red carpet in the French Riviera this week.

Ready 4 Whatever, titled in reference to a Tupac song, tells the story of a gangster underworld, where guns, kidnapping and violence are a way of life.

It is a world that m.a. knows well.

Growing up in Handsworth, Birmingham, it wasn’t difficult for him to fall into the trap of criminality after his parents’ divorce when he was 13.

His father was a business owner, he says, “But after the divorce we moved into the rougher part (of Handsworth), and all the money that he had left with him.

 “At that point I had to start sticking up kids at school for money, so I could eat lunch.”

Stealing lunch money eventually turned into bigger dealings, although m.a. is careful not to say what exactly. “I dabbled,’ is as much as he’ll say. “I dabbled in a lot of things... I was making a load of money.”

He’s philosophical about this, and about the reasons behind the descent into criminality of those growing up with similar backgrounds: “If you’re starving,” he says, “you are gonna get involved, and that’s just a fact of life.

“My brother’s doing seven years, my cousin’s doing 16 years.  We’re all from that bottom of the barrel world where it’s rough, it’s messed up.”

Although he doesn't feature in Ready 4 Whatever, m.a. will be taking a lead role in future projects - including Picture Me Rollin, his next film. He plays the “bad guy”, he says wryly, “because that’s who I was rather more familiar with.”

Ready 4 Whatever, m.a. admits, is partly autobiographical: “I take real experiences but I make a fake story out of it. I don’t want to expose real characters or anything.

"One of the things is that the criminal game, there’s no security in it. You don’t know who to trust and who’s lying, who’s telling the truth, and you have to watch your back all the time. That's why there's a load of kidnapping involved, shootings and ultimatly death and jail."

Ready 4 Whatever was shot whilst he was on bail over the smuggling into Britain of a suspect package (after 16 months of surveillance and a five day trial he was found not guilty last summer). He now wants to use his experiences to warn others about how his former lifestyle is not the way forward.

He doesn’t have to think twice about the worst thing that happened to him. “It was when I got kidnapped twice in one day,” he says. “That was the worst experience.”

He tells of going to collect a debt from a friend, having a knife put to his throat and being forcibly taken to an abandoned house where he was accused of extortion and threatened with dogs.

He says: “If they’d let them go I’d have been food.

“They told me to get my business partner on the phone and come through to the area, so my business partner came...”

The arrival of m.a.’s business partner in a tinted Jeep meant escape – but that wasn’t the end of the story.

“He automatically put the blame on me for the whole situation,” he says.  “And then he carried me off to his crew.

“The passenger usually carries a gun. But he robbed the main guy earlier that morning, so luckily for me that guy wasn’t in the picture anymore, otherwise I’d have been dead in the back of that Jeep.

“They were casually discussing how they were actually gonna kill and dispose of me while I was sat in the jeep with them.”

He escaped, eventually, due to “our relationship that we had as business partners. He could see that I’m a trustworthy guy and I’m not going to set him up like that.”

It’s a story that almost defies belief, but as m.a. says, “A lot of these guys have been through a lot of these experiences.”

He adds: “Even people that you grew up with, even people that you go to church with, you can’t trust anybody. There’s nobody to trust.” 

Shooting the film whilst on bail, he says, was a challenging experience, not least because of the having to sign in at the police station every day.

Added to this was the stabbing of Remaine Dixon, the film’s star, just seven days before shooting began. At certain points during the filming he would be “needing to take his painkillers and so he kept having to curl up in pain, and we had to stop shooting.” 

Against this backdrop, it’s hard to see how the film even got made – but it did, and now it is debuting at Cannes. How did this come about?

“I managed because I looked outside the box,” m.a. says. “I’ve always known I’ve been able to write, to write stories, and you know, for a while I had to go without – I had to survive on the money that I had, and just write these scripts, and just block out the rest of the world.

“But it takes character to actually block out those people who are trying to approach you saying “Let’s make this money, let’s move...” because you know you’ve been successful at this before, doing things, you can do it again.

“But that’s not the point. You’re not supposed to aspire to be a career criminal, because you end up locked into it and you end up in prison. That’s the facts of it.”

Talking about his previous lifestyle, he says, “A lot of people glamorise it. People actually fall in love with the struggle... they’d promote, I’m the biggest drug dealer, I’m the biggest this, I’m the biggest that. And it’s actually... you should wash your hands of it rather than make it your main goal to be the bad guy.”

He wants to promote the value of education amongst those who might not be inclined to stay within the system:  “When you’re in the actual drug game or you’re in fraud or anything like that you use a lot of intelligence,” he says.

“So if you can be that good at beating the system why not forget about beating the system and just progress legitimately and use your intelligence?”

He continues: “It’s my first time at a film festival, and I almost didn’t make it. I almost wasn’t alive with this whole kidnapping; different things that had happened...”

So what’s next, after Cannes?

Well, there’s Picture Me Rollin, which should start filming later this year. He’s also heading to Canada for a two-week promotional tour, and to meet more producers. He plans to take a cameraman and document it, “to give the kids something to look at, to say that I’m coming from the same place they’re coming from.”

It’s this message that m.a. wants to get across more than anything.

“Really,” he says, “with this thing... you don’t want to be a part of it, but it calls you.

“They want to pull you back into it. But you have to make that conscious decision, to want to finish it. Because the money’s so good, but you have to make a conscious decision that you don’t want to be part of that world anymore.

“Prison isn’t fun. It’s a joke really; you’re wasting your time, wasting your life away.”

Ready 4 Whatever is debuting at Cannes Film Festival. Visit the film's Facebook page here.

Follow m.a. on twitter

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