By the end of One Mile Away, a documentary that started off as something very worthwhile and interesting, I had to admit defeat. People I’d taken a liking to had been given (accidentally, I think) enough rope with which to hang themselves and a look at a serious attempt to change a troubled community mindset instead turned into a bit of a blame game and a series of excuses for the worst behaviour that the UK has seen in over two decades. Yep, I’m on about those 2011 riots, social disorder that flared up after a young black man was shot by police in Birmingham.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret now. I’m not the biggest fan of the police. I love the concept and respect what they symbolise and embody but I won’t be happy until we get to the stage when policing is handled by unemotional robots who actually weigh up all the facts without preconceptions or mistakes. Basically, I’ll never be happy with the system. But here’s the thing, it’s not just the police that I dislike for their flawed role in society. Oh no, I’ve become more and more distrustful of businesses, politicians and any authority figures in our land. I think that with the information we now have to hand that’s almost an inevitable feeling and many people in society now worry more because they’re more informed. There are injustices happening almost all of the time all around the world but to instigate proper, effective change there has to be a better reaction than senseless violence and looting.
I’m sorry to suddenly come across as quite a politically-minded person using this review to address concerns. that’s not actually my main point. One Mile Away becomes a very political piece as we see the few gang members (Shabba starting the whole ball rolling and Dylan as the man from the other side of the street who agrees with him) who want an end to a senseless “war” come up against all manner of obstacles, from the stubborn attitude of those involved to institutionalised racism to apathy to interference from the police. I was interested, I was rooting for the few to change the minds of the many. I especially liked the acceptance of “two wrongs don’t make a right” as the right way to look at a ridiculous situation causing many injuries and deaths – nobody actually remembers why they’re fighting against each other and the only reason is the postcode. All of this bloodshed simply caused by people living at opposite sides of a main road.
But eventually we get to those incendiary scenes, those riots that caused so much damage and fear. Director Penny Whitlock admirably stays on the side of the angry young men but, personally, my sympathy started to seep away when the argument suddenly changed into “two wrongs CAN make a right as long as one of the wrongs sees the brothers fighting a common enemy instead of each other”. Some of the justification given for the actions of that time is entirely valid but a large number of the excuses are laughably flimsy.
A few of the people involved still come out of the whole thing looking pretty good – namely Dylan and Shabba – but viewers will still find themselves, inevitably, reacting in a way that’s inextricably tied to their own views on the state of society today and the politics of change. I believe it was Gandhi who said (or popularised the saying): ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’ and that’s something I strongly believe in. Maybe if you’ve always been treated a certain way because of your social status or skin colour you will agree with the onscreen action, and that’s not something I can judge, but maybe you’ll agree with the quote just mentioned and resent those who fly in the face of it so quickly. However you react will affect your opinion of the movie, which is why I ended up marking it as sadly average.
One Mile Away is showing on Sun 24 June (21:30) in Filmhouse 1 and Tue 26 June (20:00) at Cineworld.
DIRECTOR: PENNY WOOLCOCK
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX