Director Penny Woolcock’s revealing documentary ONE MILE AWAY digs into the thorny issue of gang warfare here in Britain, focussing on two different groups in Birmingham, the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew, separated only by their respective postcodes. Having shot the film 1 DAY on the same streets back in 2009, the director knows something about the young people living there and the troubles they face. Following yet another fatality in the ongoing tit-for-tat cycle of violence, she is asked to play honest broker by hosting peace talks between two leading members from either side – both young men who have evidently had enough of seeing their friends injured or killed.
The resulting film follows the delicate and often dangerous attempts by Dylan and Shabba to convince other gang members that this is the right way forward, and it turns out to be an alternately challenging and thought-provoking piece. Woolcock is marvellously unintimidated by the taboos she constantly breaks as she not only facilitates the process of mediation, but captures some of it on film for good measure – not something to be recommended to those wishing for a quiet life.
…it turns out to be an alternately challenging and thought-provoking piece…
Most satisfyingly however, her film humanises people who have either been demonised or simply forgotten about for far too long, shedding light where many of us would fear to tread. She has the main participants introduce themselves onscreen through rapping to the camera MTV-style, which initially appears to glamorise this world of violence, before it becomes clear that the music is actually an outlet to vent their anger, is very cleverly written and, more often than not, laments the path that life has taken them down.
The genial director gave a terrific Q&A at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse after the recent screening there, going in to as much detail as she dared. Clearly the project is still ongoing, and there are some gang members who still want no part of it, but there are grounds for optimism: the two guys who led the way are now going into schools talking about what they have achieved and why, hoping to inspire others. It is a heartening outcome, an all too rare success where so many other attempts have failed. Let’s hope a follow-up film is in the works.
Keep up to date with progress on the project by visiting the ONE MILE AWAY YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/onemileawayyt