Filmmaker Penny Woolcock directs a documentary about two rival gangs in Birmingham and the two-year struggle by some members to find peace between their Midlander mobs. Shabba (from the Johnson Crew) initiated the documentary after helping Woolcock research a hip hop musical and in making the documentary is introduced to Dylan Duffus; star of the musical and rival gang member (from the Burger Bar Boys).
The majority of the film sees Woolcock trailing around after various gang members as they strive to find common ground and end the needless bloodshed on the streets of Birmingham. The message is brought home when a friend is killed and some of the members fighting for peace seem to lose their convictions and see the fight against violence as a futile one.
There’s no doubt that the subject of this documentary is an important one. The battle for an end to gang warfare is seen as important enough for Jonathan Powell, overseer of the Good Friday Agreement, to pop in and offer some advice. What is slightly underwhelming is the number of gang members who seem to be interesting in ending the feud. At one moment Woolcock herself can be heard not wanting to go and meet any new gang members as they are constantly asking for the cameras to be turned off and then wanting nothing to do with the peace efforts. This lack of progress is as exasperating for the viewer as it is for the filmmaker and gang members.
The film comes to a head with 2011’s riots but not in the way you might think as both gangs abstain from the looting, instead expressing exasperation at the younger kids who seem to be rampaging for little more than Pick n’ Mix and a new iPhone.
No matter how worthy this film may be it does lack any sense of cinematic quality. Woolcock has rightly been focussed on getting herself in the right place at the right time and so has foregone any unnecessary visual excitement. After we have been taken to the heights of last year’s The Imposter this documentary feels sadly lacklustre in comparison. And the occasional rap interludes that are scattered throughout are something I could have done without.
An interesting documentary but ultimately one more suited to the smaller screen. One Mile Away is in UK cinemas from 29th March 2013 and comes to Channel 4 later in the year (and I’d recommend you wait until then).