One Mile Away (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/03/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 95 mins

Penny Woolcock's documentary is undeniably admirable in intent and does an excellent job of highlighting the futility of gang violence, but it's frustratingly light on both the root causes and general background information, while the interviews themselves quickly become repetitive.

What's it all about?
In 2009, director Penny Woolcock (a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman) made 1 Day, a thriller-slash-‘grime musical’ about gang warfare in Birmingham. In 2010, Woolcock was contacted by Shabba (real name Matthias Thompson), a real-life member of the Johnson Crew (from the Aston area of Birmingham, B6), who asked her for her help in seeking a solution to the problem of gang violence. In turn, Woolcock contacted Dylan Duffus, a gang member from rival gang the Burger Bar Boys (Handsworth, B21) who had starred in 1 Day; subsequently she arranged and filmed the first meeting between the two men and they agreed to work together to try and broker a peaceful solution.

The film follows the efforts of the two men, separately and together, as they speak to gang members on both sides, though their good intentions are constantly undermined by outbreaks of violence; at one point, Woolcock's cameras are present during a carnival when gunshots are heard, sparking widespread panic. The interviews are also interspersed with rap interludes, with many of the interviewees lip-synching to their own tracks while walking the streets of Birmingham.

The Good
There's no denying the admirable intentions behind One Mile Away and the film is successful in presenting a depressing snapshot of life on the streets of Birmingham (at least in B6 and B21), surrounded by ‘postcode-related’ violence; as one interviewee points out, ‘What looks terrible to you looks normal to us’. The film also strongly highlights the futility of gang violence, as well as reminding us of its most high-profile casualties, two teenage girls who were caught in a crossfire outside a party in 2003 (the controversy surrounding the subsequent conviction is also explored).

Shabba and Dylan make an effective pair of ambassadors, though Dylan has a tendency to get a little carried away, as evidenced by a scene where he loses it in front of two police officers. That said, it's fair to say that their genuine friendship is the film's most enduring source of hope, though, ironically, it takes the 2011 riots to actually get the gangs talking in a significant way.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is the lack of background information and context; we have no sense of how big the rival gangs are, who (if anyone) controls them and what they actually do, since the film, perhaps understandably, shies away from discussing the participants' less than legal activities. The result is that, since they're unable to discuss the actual root cause of the conflict (drugs), the interviews quickly become frustratingly repetitive.

Worth seeing?
One Mile Away takes an intriguing and commendable approach to a seemingly insurmountable problem, but the lack of context is frequently frustrating.

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Content updated: 21/10/2017 13:00

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