Bognor-born documentary maker’s debut is available on 4 on Demand

A documentary maker born in Bognor Regis has made her directorial debut on Channel 4 with a film about a boy wrestling with cystic fibrosis as he applies to one of the world’s top dance schools

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 5:30 pm
Director Poppy Goodheart was born and raised in Bognor Regis

The Boy Who Can’t Stop Dancing, which aired at 11:05pm on Tuesday night (August 2) has been exceptionally well-reviewed. With coverage in The Times, the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The i and the Irish Independent, it’s been praised for its ‘hopeful’ tone and ‘intimate’ scope, offering viewers a valuable lesson in perseverance.But what none of the coverage mentioned is that Poppy Goodheart, the 31-year-old filmmaker behind The Boy Who Can’t Stop Dancing, was born and bred right here in Bognor Regis.

It follows Tom Oakley, a 17 year-old-dancer with cystic fibrosis, as he prepares to audition for the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London: one of the most prestigious dance schools in the world.

Using interviews with Tom’s family, footage of his training, and a variety of home videos, the documentary explores Tom’s passion for dance: the fact that it has kept him fit enough to stay out of hospital and mentally healthy enough to keep fighting, day after day.

Tom Oakley. Ed Alexander photography

For Mrs Goodheart, who got into documentary-making after university, this was an especially rewarding project.

“In all honesty, what I loved about Tom was that he had this brilliant way of putting things,” she said.

“He was this 17-year-old who was looking at the world very differently than I did, and thought about dance very differently, in ways that I’d not thought about it before. And that’s very exciting, when you realise you’re going to have to translate how they see the world onto the screen, work out both what they mean by it and how to tell that story.

“He had such a lovely way of phrasing stuff. You want to watch him, but you also want to listen to what he’s saying, because he’s obviously thought about some of it really deeply.”

That’s something Mrs Goodheart hopes her audience sees in Tom for themselves, but she also hopes his story resonates beyond its subject, that viewers take something away from his struggle.

She said: “What I love is the fact that it’s a single story. It meant that I could really get to know Tom. It’s a coming of age story, focusing on this part of life that we’re sort of drawn to and fascinated by.”

If the response to the documentary so far is anything to go by, Mrs Goodheart’s story-telling instincts were right on target: “Especially because this is my first time directing, for it to be received so well is just amazing. It’s not what you expect, you kind of go into this thing just being glad that you’ve been allowed to do it, and then to have the reviews that we’ve got so far is just incredible.”
Although the documentary has already aired, it is still viewable through 4OD. Click here to access it.