Film Review: One Mile Away

Director: Penny Woolcock
Certificate: 15
Running time: 90 mins
Release date: 29th March 2013

Welcome to Birmingham – a city tarnished by the 20-year postcode war between rival gangs, the Burger Bar Boys (B21) and Johnson Crew (B6). If pavements could talk, they’d tell the harrowing stories of all those lives cut short by their so-called ‘enemies’, separated by just a stretch of main road; stories reiterated on camera as award-winning filmmaker, Penny Woolcock (One Day; The Principles of Lust; Mischief Night) documents the mission of two men from the opposing sides as they meet in secret to draw a metaphorical line across the blood stains with a truce.

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The reason for the war? Matthias Thompson aka ‘Shabba’ openly admits he has no idea but when his disclosure precedes a man, affiliated to the Johnsons, showing the camera two bullet holes in the walls where he narrowly escaped with his life, the realisation is sudden and unrelenting but has you questioning: how did the tensions reach this level? And has it gone too far for peace? Side-by-side with ally, Dylan Duffus, lead actor in drama, One Day, the film tracks the pair’s two-year journey to recruit others for the cause and the hostility they face along the way.

Digesting the news and their nonchalant headlines of gang warfare, we disconnect; forgetting that in reality, those names mentioned belong to families. An intimate interview with the mother of Marcus Ellis, one-of-four convicted for the New Years Eve murders of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare in Aston, alongside his solicitor and barrister, explores a further narrative to the story – the criminal justice system – which is strengthened by gritty footage of the 2011 UK riots and obstruction from the police authorities, who in Dylan’s words, sought to have the project shut down.

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Within the first few minutes of the film’s opening, the message of One Mile Away could easily have been lost through the inner-city slang, (which required subtitles) baseball caps and the pattern of black male faces. However, listening to the plight of men aged as young as 15, who have lost close friends and rarely feel safe outside, it’s clear the enormity of the task at hand and how monumental talks of peace from those who have lived it, really is.

Over 90 minutes, you’re taken on a very eye-opening journey that stirs all kinds of mixed feelings towards society, as we now know it – the family unit, government authorities and the media. Bringing about peace is just one edge of the coin but the other is so embroiled in anger and resentment, at so many moments in the film you’re compelled to just reach out and give all of those young men a hug. Without glamorising gang culture, One Mile Away manages to describe the predatory nature of the streets, along with the dangers and complexities of ‘road life’. Its heart beats in Brum town but its significance echoes across the entire UK for all to empathise with and relate to.

8/10

Support the One Mile Away #RoadToFreedomTour through their Kickstarter campaign: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/313414227/one-mile-away

For details of screenings near you: http://onemileaway.co.uk/screenings

Listen to an exclusive interview with co-founder of the One Mile Away Organisation and cast member, Simeon ‘Zimbo’ Moore at the Birmingham premiere of the film here.

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