New film about Birmingham's two notorious gangs shows power of reconciliation
Written by Poppy Brady
29/03/2013 01:32 PM
INSPIRATIONAL: Penny Woolcock, film director (second left) with actor Dylan Duffus; Simeon Moore, CEO of the social enterprise One Mile Away, and Alicia Barnes, company co-ordinator
THEY USED to be sworn enemies caught up in bitter gangland feuds – now young men from rival gangs are working together to end a 20-year turf war that has blighted Birmingham.
The quest for a truce between the notorious Burger Bar Boys and Johnson Crew is the story of One Mile Away, an award-winning documentary currently showing in Birmingham.
Movers and shakers from the Probation Service, the Youth Offending Service and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust watched a screening at the Lighthouse Young People’s Centre in Lozells.
They praised the former gang members for having the courage to try to broker a truce, which the young men themselves say continues to be a work in progress. Many organisations have pledged offers of help to support them.
And out of the feature length film, a social enterprise of the same name has been set up by the former gang members to mentor and support today’s generation away from gang warfare.
Teaching resource packs have also been created for use in schools. It shows how the work of ordinary people can help transform entrenched social problems.
So far, it seems to be working. Ten years ago the drive-by shooting of teenage girls Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis shocked Britain. Now, not one single gang-related firearm has been discharged in Birmingham since last October.
It’s well documented that the rivalry between the two gangs centred around postcodes and they live within a mile from each – hence the name of the film. The Aston-based Burgers are B6, with the Handsworth-based Johnson, B21, separated by Birchfield Road.
As one of the film’s stars Dylan Duffus puts it: “We are arguing over postcodes that don’t even belong to us.”
The person pivotal to all this is the film’s acclaimed director Penny Woolcock, who bears a resemblance to the actress Helen Mirren, both in looks and voice.
One Mile Away has already scooped the prestigious Michael Powell Award for the best British feature film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012.
But it was during the work on her earlier Birmingham-based ‘grime musical’, 1 Day, where she gained the trust of gang members who contacted her again to ask if she would help them try to bring peace in their community.
Woolcock said: “The fact that I knew people on both sides helped and I wanted to do something to help the situation.
“It was tragic to see those in the hood – clever, articulate, interesting and talented people killing each other over streets they don’t own,” the director added.
It’s clear that the film’s main players – Dylan, Zimbo (Simeon Moore), Shabba (Matthias Thompson) are smart, bright people who want their own children to have a life different from their own.
The film was produced with support from BritDoc, and funded by Channel 4 and Creative England.
One Mile Away is being screened tonight (March 29) and tomorrow night from 6.30pm at The Drum Arts centre, Potters Lane, Aston. It will be screened on Channel 4 on April 11.
There are also London screenings at the following dates and locations:
April 1 - Screening starts at Hackney Picturehouse, London at 6.30pm. Q+A from 8pm.
April 2 - Screening at Brixton Ritzy, London at 6.30pm, Q+A from 8pm
April 2 - Screening at Peckhamplex Peckham, London at 8.15pm, Q+A at 9.45pm
Saturday 6th April - Screening at Aubin Cinema, London at 2.30pm. Q+A at 4.pm