England is a divided country, divided even in communities who have almost everything in common. Before I saw One Mile Away (showing on Channel 4 11th April 11.10pm and in cinemas, onemileaway.co.uk) I had heard about postcode warfare, where gangs who live in different postcodes are sworn enemies. But One Mile Away brought that reality alive in Birmingham, where a dual carriageway divides the fiefdoms of the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew.
The documentary follows the efforts of one member of each gang as they try to forge a truce. Their efforts are mediated informally by the film-maker Penny Woolcock, who for many months is the only one who can cross the divide. The film depicts a world where the teenagers have guns and knives and use them and where the 'elders' are in their twenties and many have spent years in prison. Its a brilliant film. Its partly about leadership - the two truce makers are not the chiefs of their gangs, but they are very brave in their efforts to influence, and incredibly persistent. For months, Shabba cannot get his side to listen at all, and his motivation is distrusted. Its the persistence that in the end pays.
The film is also notable for the absence of women. Its a man's world where women play no role in gang politics, and appear to have little pacifying influence. Its also a world of black people and teenagers, where the only white figures are police. My seventeen year old daughter, who went to see the film with me, was the same age as some of the gang members and goes to an inner city comprehensive. But she said she had no experience of what the film depicted.
Perhaps the element of the film I found most depressing was the division between the gang members and the police. There was real resentment of the police and an unwillingness to give them any information. I understand that resentment but its a real pity. If police are always seen as the enemy, law enforcement becomes impossible. Perhaps the next truce to be brokered is between the West Midlands police and the gangs.