One Mile Away depicts the internal attempts to set peace between two gangs in Birmingham – the Burgers (‘Burger Bar Boys’) and the Johnsons (‘the Johnson Crew’). The film was shown at the Edinburgh film festival and was awarded the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Film.
This is also the second film where filmmaker Penny Woolcock deals with the polarised gang world of Birmingham after her hip-hop musical 1 Day, where the protagonist is played by Dylan Dufus of the ‘Burgers’. He appears in her new film as well as his real self. Along with him we see Shabba from the ‘Johnsons’ and other members of the two gangs or the community, trying to change their lives and hoping to ensure a better future for the young. In the duration of the film we are presented with a series of tragic events, where the victims are young or underage. The senselessness of the situation is numerously repeated when members of the gangs point out that they are not really fighting for anything, just attacking their own. All this builds up to the events of the riots of 2011 and parallels are drawn between these and the Handsworth riots of 1985.
The attempts for peace are supported by people outside the community. On several occasions we see Woolcock herself in the frame as she discusses the situation with the young men. Similarly there are appearances by James Purnell, a former MP between 2001 and 2010 (also one of the producers of the film) and one of the negotiators in the Northern-Ireland peace process, who explains to gangs’ members how to achieve peace. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang members and young men trying to cope with the violence putting their lives in constant danger also make for interesting characters.
…a point of emphasising the unfair treatment the gangs receive…
This repetition of the problems they are facing grows frustrating as the characters give voice to their fears and issues with society and with their own. We never see what these guys really do for a living and we never find out what the gangs’ ‘beef’ is about, since they do not seem to know themselves. What is clearly mediated is the difficulties they face as Dylan and Shabba try to get their voices heard. The film further makes a point of emphasising the unfair treatment the gangs receive from the government as no resolution is reached.
Woolcock’s One Mile Away makes use of heavy rap as an additional expression of the aggression of the environment. Furthermore, the music is a reply to the disappointment of the impossibility of change and the new sense of community, united for a specific cause.
…the stagnant situation the members of the gangs are trapped in…
All in all, One Mile Away is a candid depiction of an existing social issue, which is accessible for a wider audience and flows well, making it easy to watch. In its representation it does not go beyond the environment of the problem and the consequences of gang life. Still, this can also be seen as a hint at the stagnant situation the members of the gangs are trapped in and the disinterest towards solving the problem.