Tributes paid to ‘film of hope’ creator Dan Lawrence
Tributes have been paid to inspirational Dereham Christian youth worker Dan Lawrence, who died last night (November 21) from a brain tumour only two weeks after his film Looking to Eternity was released.
When faced with an inoperable brain tumour Dan, aged 25, turned his diagnosis into a way of engaging young people in an ambitious media project. It resulted in an 80-minute production, filmed and acted by young people, that tackles challenging issues such as death, faith and hope.
Dan and wife Kim were present at the premiere of Looking to Eternity at the Hollywood cinema in Dereham on November 4.
Ang Fox, Director of North Breckland YFC, said: “Dan passed away yesterday evening. He was with all his family and passed peacefully to glory. Dan's faith in Jesus has never wavered. He constantly professed God is good. Please pray for Dan’s family and the young people who we work with who loved Dan lots, as we journey with them.”
In early 2015, Dan, recently married to Kim, found out he was suffering from an aggressive and inoperable brain tumour.
His response to the devastating diagnosis was in keeping with his passions, his creativity and positive character. Dan wrote a screenplay called “Looking to Eternity”, with the intention of turning it into a project to engage and benefit young people, and be filmed and acted by them.
In a final media interview, Dan spoke about the film and his journey, to Good News for Norwich & Norfolk, just two weeks ago.
“There’s always been a difference in the way we do things and we would never just sit around,” said Dan. “I don’t think there has ever been a point where I thought: ‘I can’t be bothered’. There has always been something.”
Dan has always had a faith, growing up attending Sprowston Methodist Church. Since 2010 he has been a youth worker for North Breckland Youth For Christ (YFC), specialising in projects where he can gently and patiently engage and encourage young people in media and creative initiatives, such as BreckFest Youth Radio, a filmed version of the Passion story and a new pantomime.
With the full support of North Breckland YFC, Dan focused on the script through his early radiotherapy treatment.
Following almost two years of hard work, Dan, North Breckland YFC, a cast and crew of young people and other key volunteers turned that screenplay into the feature length film Looking to Eternity.
The film of hope is the story of a grumpy young man called John who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. It follows the journey that he and his wife, Edy, go on through his illness, finding faith and ultimately joy.
The quality of the production is impressively professional, and the difficult subject matter is handled with sensitivity, intelligence, humour and uncompromising honesty.
Dan said: “It is a complicated matter but something that needs to be dealt with I think. And something that needs to be dealt with in a way that almost makes it comical at the same time, but in a way that there is a definite reason for it all.”
The film, shot over seven days, is an incredible achievement, given that the majority of the characters are played by young people who had never previously acted and many of the technical roles were carried out by young people learning as they went.
The inspiration for the film was a verse Dan read in his Bible. 2 Corinthians 4:18: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal". It has been a great source of comfort for the team during Dan's illness.
Ang Fox, producer of Looking to Eternity describes the film as ‘a miracle’.
She said: “God’s hand is just all over it at every stage. His timing and provision all the way through has been amazing. We had an £8,000 budget and we came in on budget.”
“If you talk to anyone in the industry they wouldn’t believe it and the quality that has been produced in seven days is a miracle. The young people have been amazing. They have learned such a lot and they have shown a real example of what it is to work in unity and work towards a purpose.”
The film was funded by the Jerusalem Trust with grants for equipment awarded by Breckland Youth Advisory Board, Barnham Broom Trust and Red House Youth Project. A professional film director, Jeremy Higham, gave guidance on the script and provided training at the week-long film school that first brought the cast and crew of young people and adults together in February 2016.
Dan’s twin brother, Ben Lawrence, a youth worker for Norwich Youth for Christ, was also instrumental in the project, editing and deputising as director when Dan was unable to be on set due to the illness.
Dan’s wife Kim, a youth worker for Norwich Christian youth charity ENYP and also the 27 Beat Editor for the film, said: “It’s been a good thing to focus on. During the treatments it was just something else to be doing and focusing on when everything else health-wise wasn’t doing so good.”
In May 2016, Dan was told that the brain tumour was continuing to grow and another cycle of chemotherapy began. In October 2016, he was told that the chemotherapy wasn’t working and treatment would stop.
Describing how Dan took this news, Kim said: “We came out of that appointment and I said: ‘how do you feel about it?’ and Dan just looked at me and said: ‘God’s good’. And through everything, every time we get good or bad news, Dan is always like: ‘God’s in control and God’s good’. And that has always been the focus: God is still good and God still loves us.”
When asked how he thought his own faith had helped him face the diagnosis, Dan said: “There’s the crux of it. I get asked this question and I just sometimes don’t know. I think that it all comes down to how you take it on. I think there is something amazing about being in the Christian world, because there is a chance and a real hope.”
Looking to Eternity is now available to buy on DVD for £10. Half of the proceeds from sales of the DVD will go to The Brain Tumour Charity at Dan’s request.
The North Breckland YFC team pray that the film will be watched far and wide both by individuals and groups. The charity has produced free downloadable resources that groups can use alongside the film to discuss the issues that the film raises.
Ang said: “We just want as many people as possible to see it, because we believe that God will touch people’s lives with it. I think we’ve known that from the beginning and that’s always been what is driving us.”
You can purchase the Looking to Eternity DVD and download the free resources from www.northbrecklandyfc.org.uk
Looking To Eternity will be shown on Saturday November 26 at The Sanctuary, Grove Walk, Norwich at 7pm (doors open at 6.30pm) and also at Oak Grove Chapel on December 11 at 7pm.
Story by Jenny Seal
Pictured top, Dan and Kim Lawrence at the premiere of Looking to Eternity in Dereham on November 4 and, above, Emma Struthers and Joshua Gould in a scene from Looking to Eternity.
You can also read the interview with Dan and the story of Looking to Eternity in the latest edition of Good News for Norwich & Norfolk by clicking here.
Please add your tributes to and memories of Dan below.