Exemplary engaged film-making and an award-winning account of faltering attempts to turn around apparently implacable inner-city negativity.
Truce and Consequences. Television review – Tom Jennings
Penny Woolcock's impressive hip-hop movie 1 Day (2009) adroitly showcased Birmingham's Black street culture, deploying beats and freestyles from indigenous musicians and amateur cast to indict the ruination wrought by drugs trade lifestyles – despite which, West Midlands police persuaded local cinemas to refuse screenings. Still, general youth approval of its authenticity and respect encouraged Aston ex-gangster Shabba to approach Woolcock to help broker a truce initiative with Handsworth – hoping to counter the most intractable UK postcode violence, which infamously caught two lasses in crossfire on the borderline in New Year 2003 but had a further decade's murderous provenance. This fascinating documentary, screened on Channel 4 on 11th April, follows those parts of the proceedings captured on film, after 1 Day star Dylan Duffus promptly lent charismatic support – but snail's pace progress followed due to entrenched suspicion and the exceedingly vicious circularity of the vendetta as well as general depressive inertia.
Until, that is, the de facto suspension of hostilities during August 2011's riots – far more concretely helpful than the homilies offered in a gratuitous VIP cameo by producer James Purnell's buddy Jonathan Powell (Blair's former North of Ireland peace process aide). Now, common cause is more readily recognised against divisive depradations of economic hardship and social policy, police strategy and media demonisation, weaving extensive experience of poverty and hopelessness, relentless harassment and brutality with the philosophical, political and historical savvy of various veterans – both of 'the life' and previous organisations, cultural movements and riotous insurrections – who had themselves virtually given up on their descendants. Sharing stories of footprints of repression forges link between, for example, Brum's industrial-colonial heritage and current devastation, and official malevolence like the show-trial miscarriage of justice in the aforementioned innocent bystanders case and police attempts to prevent Woolcock filming and then to seize all her material (both rebuffed).
Subsequent accelerating recruitment to the cause yields the salving of recent and longstanding local wounds and a sharp, sustained decline in neighbourhood crime – and the launch of the One Mile Away community enterprise and schools programme, where the confidence and inspiration, not to mention footage, facilitated by Woolcock's intervention continues to echo and sustain . Yet the underlying economic and institutional causes of the problem remain intact. Understandably, given public exposure, no reference has been made to the role of the drugs game in fuelling gang rivalry – transforming a nebulous identification among teenagers with their 'turf' into more intransigent barbarism, insidiously colonised by adjacent realms of capitalist governance. So, we can hope that those conspicuous collective dimensions of grassroots solidarity remain prominent and autonomous enough to allow political development and agitational expression – as seen now in 'poor people's movements' across the world – to counter the predictable conformist individualism of bootstrap entrepreneurialism and moral education by role-model exhortation.
1. stemming not least from integrity, skill and commitment in recording and representing accounts of working-class life during years of documentary and hybrid fiction filmmaking (see, for example, a review of Mischief Night in Freedom, 13th January 2007) – also helping explain 1 Day's effortless trumping of the hyperbolic overkill of the new British urban cinema. For an interesting interview with Woolcock, see http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/interviews/penny-woolcock-talks-gangsters.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 74, No. 4, May 2013.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see: