One Mile Away (3 stars)

One Mile Away

Heartfelt documentary from Penny Woolcock about gang violence in Birmingham

Winner of the Michael Powell award at last summer’s Edinburgh Film Festival, Penny Woolcock’s heartfelt if sometimes naïve documentary charts the efforts by representatives of two notorious inner-Birmingham street gangs, the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew, to broker a ceasefire in a lethal feud which stretches back over two decades.

For her previous fictional hip-hop musical One Day, Woolcock cast Dylan Duffus in the role of a drug dealer, who is desperate to clear a £100,000 debt in just 24 hours. Here Duffus, who is affiliated to the Burger faction, is introduced by the filmmaker to Matthias Thompson aka Shabba, who is connected to the Johnson gang. Over a two-year period, which encompasses the riots of August 2011, Woolcock records the attempts by Shabba and Duffus and their associates to step back from the internecine violence, including a meeting with a key British government negotiator in the Good Friday peace process.

The strength of One Mile Away is that it gives the viewer a palpable sense of what it’s like to be caught up in these 'postcode' wars – witness the panic for example when gunfire is heard at a music festival in Handsworth and the crowd starts fleeing – and it also highlights the rage felt by young black males in the city towards the police. Some socio-historical analysis is offered, although the elephant in the room is the narcotics trade, particularly in heroin and crack cocaine, which has helped fuel the massive escalation in gun crime in Birmingham during recent years. 'A war over nothing' is how one gang member describes the bloodletting at one point, yet Woolcock doesn’t interrogate this important assertion. It seems likely, given the dismal economic opportunities available to those living in deprived areas, that dealing in illegal drugs is an obvious way to obtain designer clothes, expensive cars and the ‘respect’ of one’s peer group, and that the radical option of decriminalizing drugs must be considered by the authorities.

Limited release from Fri 29 Mar.

One Mile Away Film Trailer - Directed by Penny Woolcock

One Mile Away

  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • UK
  • 1h 31min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Penny Woolcock
  • Written by: Penny Woolcock
  • Cast: Dylan Duffus, Matthias Thompson
  • UK release: 29 March 2013

Documentary about the long feud between two Birmingham street gangs and the efforts of two of their representatives (Duffus and Thompson) to broker a ceasefire. Woolcock vividly conveys what it's like to be caught up in these wars, but there's not much serious analysis of their root cause in the narcotics trade.