One Mile Away

This documentary looks at how two rival Birmingham gangs (Burgers, Johnsons) have been at war and the efforts of Dylan, Shabba and accomplices in creating peace.

Genre:Documentary

Director(s): Penny Woolcock

The subjects are heartfelt; the real people give it power as subjects and there’s no doubting the wonderful message on display.
Occasionally the film is unfocused, the constant rap sing-along introductions get a bit annoying, the hard facts and figures are short in supply.

One Mile Away film Review

In David Fincher’s Seven William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) ends by saying “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.” Penny Woolcock’s documentary about the gang warfare in Birmingham seems to readily evoke such a statement.  Recessions, violence and social segregation have been plentiful throughout history and One Mile Away is a film that suggests that all three are a modern affair. As a heartfelt film, intent on raising a point One Mile Away succeeds but it feels like Woolcock’s film has only scratched the surface.

Her direction is solid and Woolcock has clearly embraced the subject and thrown her soul into it. Woolcock feels to have tried and cover a bit too much because the film eventually feels a bit unfocused. Starting as coverage of Dylan Duffus, Shabba and co.’s attempts at social settlement, the film converts into a topical statement on unity in face of the British riots, the lost youth of today and a statement on changing values. It is too much to cover in 90 minutes and as a result the focus shifts a bit too much. Still it is a joy to watch a film so intent on making a difference or at least showing other’s attempts to do so.

Woolcock directed Duffus in her 2009 film 1 Day and seeing him use his minor celebrity status to try and educate others is a nice change from the usual flippancy of mainstream media headliners. This film bases its ideas on the testimonies of real people, people who have lived, felt and fought this conflict between the Burger faction and the Johnson clans. It feels genuine because it is, the state of social regression is sad to see but honest (albeit increasingly unsurprising). One Mile Away is a film that suggests society stops fighting over the unclear causes and turns its attention to the real issues. It is one heck of an idea that one day people will hopefully embrace. Though as this film shows that may be a while.

The film has lighter moments and endearing real life characters but there is no such lightness when it comes to the facts. Riots, stabbings, shootings are shown through headlines and verbal testimonies, as well as the odd actual recorded incidents. The problem is that this film seems loose on the actual figures behind the crimes. There is not enough scale of the hard facts; instead it is occasionally left to guess work. This film is informative of what goes on but not of how bad it is or how long, the figures are missing in action. Also people are introduced at such rate that their gangland allegiances get a bit lost.

Having said that, this film argues complacency when it comes to the emergency service’s action, so it must be said the lack of figures could genuinely be down to them being unknown. If this is a case, what a sad state of affairs indeed! Regardless of this light chassis, One Mile Away is an interesting film that offers some hard truths and even though the rap-along introductions and tiresome soundtrack seems to demean certain sequences, giving the project an MTV Doc style, this is still well worth your time. Let us hope more follow suit and look into ignored issues like this a bit more often.

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