Film that exposes city's gangs is banned in Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

When an acclaimed filmmaker decided to make her next feature in Birmingham, it was because she wanted to put the city on the cinematic map. Penny Woolcock has certainly done that, although not in the way that she might have wished, instead sparking a row with the police.

Her feature film, 1 Day, focuses on the city's postcode gangs and gun culture. The drama follows two rival gangs – the Burgers and the Johnsons – on the mean streets of Handsworth and uses only local amateur actors.

The opening scene features the protagonist preparing crack in the kitchen while looking after his baby. Many shootings and stabbings later, the film ends with the main character walking off with £100,000.

But local police took umbrage at this portrayal of Birmingham violence, and the West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable, Suzette Davenport, appeared on television accusing filmmakers of "glamorising violence".

She said: "My starting-point is that it's fiction, but I think you do see some glamorisation of gang-related behaviour. The main character walks off with £100,000, leaving behind a carnage of dead bodies. It's like a shoot-out at the OK Corral."

Ms Davenport was speaking as cinemas in Birmingham decided not to show the film, which is due to be released next Friday and will be screened in 90 venues across the country.

The Odeon chain confirmed that it would not be showing the film in the city itself, although it will carry it in 10 cinemas nationwide. Cineworld has likewise opted out of a local screening, in spite of carrying it in more than 20 of its cinemas across the country, according to the film's distributors Vertigo.

Only one major multiplex – Vue – which originally declined to show 1 Day in Birmingham, had a change of heart after a consultation process. And two smaller independent cinemas in the city will also show the film.

One multiplex said it had decided not to show the film after the West Midlands Police advised it not to do so. It emerged yesterday that a uniformed West Midlands police constable had taken it upon himself to speak to the manager of the Odeon in Birmingham and advised him, in a personal capacity, against screening 1 Day. The manager took the advice, word spread and other multiplexes followed.

Ms Davenport said the police officer in question was "mortified" by the consequences of his actions, but would not be suspended or reprimanded.

She dismissed claims that the force had tried to implement a ban, but admitted that she had written to the British Board of Film Classification in an attempt to have the film's certification raised from 15 to 18 years, but saidher request had been denied.

Ms Woolcock defended her film, which she spent months in Birmingham researching, and said that while it did not seek to portray any one story, many of the events were a combination of shocking stories she had catalogued while talking to gang members.

"The film is trying to show that these people have ordinary lives, and trying to understand it from their point of view. It does not have a glamorising message, but it does show how attractive this world can be.

"In one scene, a character says 'everybody knows that crime does pay'. But there are many scenes showing the consequences of this life. It's an insight into this world," she said.

She added that Davenport had viewed the film three weeks ago in a special screening, and had appeared to approve of it. Dylan Duffus, the lead actor in the film, said: "I think people should see the film, because they will understand what's going on in these young men's minds."

The film received £65,000 funding for distribution by the UK Film Council, where yesterday a spokeswoman said, "We would not see it as glamorising violence".