The violence arising out of the infamous rivalry between Birmingham's two most prominent gangs, the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew, whose postcodes B21 and B6 separate them by only a mile, has blighted the city for years.
Millions of pounds have been spent trying to address the problem. Communities have been divided. Innocent lives have been lost, while others have been irrevocably shattered. One Mile Away may well be the most significant attempt to resolve this historic problem once and for all.
Winner of the Edinburgh Film Festival's Michael Powell award for best British film, Penny Woolcock's documentary is a milestone. It transcends the medium by not just highlighting a problem, but by actively trying to tackle it. As proof of her commitment, she was able to persuade former MP James Purnell and key Northern Ireland peace architect Jonathan Powell to back this project; James as a Producer, Jonathan as an adviser.
While the main aim is to broker a truce between 'Burgers' and 'Johnsons', the film also acts as a clarion call to young boys and girls to repel the lure of gang life and choose a more auspicious path.
Dylan Duffus, aka D-Boy, and Matthias Thompson, aka Shabba, are the two very brave young men who take a big but necessary risk in bringing their respective gangs together. Initial efforts to enlist support for peace are met with great suspicion. Gang members on both sides accuse the men of having ulterior motives. But they persevere in spite of their odds.
It would be wrong to judge this documentary solely in terms of its cinematic merit, though it is very well made. It is engaging, impeccably researched and deeply moving. The national resonance it is sure to have will be down to the fact that it has been made by a film maker who is really operating as a compassionate social activist.
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