Driftwood is an impressive 11 minute short film from director James Webber, picking up where the London 2012 Olympics left off. A visual piece of storytelling, it also relies heavily on the instrumental soundtrack to amplify the narrative of a disadvantaged adolescent and the obstacles in the way of his sporting dream.
That sport is swimming and the adolescent is Sam (newcomer Sam Gittins). Set in north London, he is tormented in his private and social life; the emotional attack from his alcoholic father (Neil Maskell) and the potential physical one from the local estate hoodies.
Carefully edited to inter-splice each segment of his life to balance the three plot threads, the film manages to grip the viewer’s attention by touching on the familiar tale of triumphing against adversity. The slow, overhanging shots give a grander sense of the story, cleverly filmed to ensure there is a bigger picture to this short film.
There must have been a subconscious influence of the Olympics because it could certainly be misconstrued as being an advert for it. It borderline overplays on the sentimentality with the continual use of soft focus close-ups and pulling-on-the-heartstrings music – seemingly to compensate for the running time in order to quicken the connection to Sam.
This is further underlined with the extensive reliance of stereotypical figures (the drunken dad, the multi-racial gang members) while balancing it out with a caring, wholesome female swimming instructor.
However, take nothing away from what has been achieved considering its limited time and budget. Sam Gittins has a fine debut as the plagued Sam, showing that a look can be worth more than endless dialogue. After his breakout role in Kill List, Neil Maskell provides terrific support as Sam’s dad, giving an equally nuanced performance of frightening authority.
Webber should be commended for getting the film made through crowd-funding because he has certainly created an engaging glimpse of the modern life experienced by a broken inner-city teen – the foreboding dread of what is coming contrasted with the optimism of what having an outlet can bring.
Yes, this may have been accomplished with a few clichés, but it is them which ultimately help us empathise with the Sam and story. And just like the London Olympics, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Driftwood can be sure to leave an impression of hope, inspiration and a sense of achievement – because of both Webber and Sam.