Portrayal of racism that features Sighthill refugees wins film award

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The Independent Culture

A controversial film involving refugees in the district of Glasgowwhere a Kurdish asylum-seeker was murdered has won an award at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

A controversial film involving refugees in the district of Glasgowwhere a Kurdish asylum-seeker was murdered has won an award at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Gas Attack received the £5,000 Michael Powell Prize for the best new British feature film. It tells a fictitious story of growing racial tensions in Glasgow, culminating in a lethal gas attack on refugees in an area of the city heavily populated by ethnic minorities.

Although it was filmed in the spring, it was given particular poignancy by the murder earlier this month of a refugee, Firsat Dag, in the Sighthill district. The crime shocked the local community and prompted questions about the Government's resettlement policy for asylum-seekers.

The film, which was funded by Scottish Screen and Channel 4's documentary department, and made for the remarkably small sum of £650,000, used a mainly amateur cast, including extras from the refugee community itself.

But it provoked controversy in Glasgow, with councillors warning that it threatened to inflame racial tension and the Scottish Refugee Council accusing it of portraying refugees as helpless victims.

Announcing that the film had won the Michael Powell Prize, the jury, including the actor Brian Cox and the veteran American cinematographer Haskell Wexler, said it combined fiction and documentary with vitality and creativity.

Simon Field, the jury chairman, said: "The winning film stands out for its bold handling of enormously timely and political issues and for the way it has taken the by now over- familiar style of reality television and made of it something profound and thought provoking. It does so with narrative drive, visual energy and remarkable acting from an often inexperienced cast."

John Archer, head of Scottish Screen, said the film showed the way to more innovative creative partnerships between television companies and national film funders. Gas Attack is the first feature-length work from Kenny Glenaan, whose previous work includes episodes of EastEnders and Cops. It was the only Scottish film in the Edinburgh Festival this year. The writer was Rowan Josse, one of the co-writers of The Last Resort, which won the Michael Powell Prize last year.

Mr Glenaan said the scenario in the film was entirely fictional but it incorporated real stories from asylum-seekers, who were consulted during the filming. "I was shocked by the savagery of these stories and stunned by people's fortitude in the face of trauma, both in Glasgow and in their home countries," he said.

The prize was established in 1993 in honour of the director Michael Powell. It aims to promote imaginative and creative British film making. Previous winners include Michael Winterbottom's Jude, Tim Roth's The War Zone and Love Is The Devil by John Maybury.

* Hundreds of Kurds marched through north London yesterday in protest at the killing of a Kurdish shopkeeper. Hasan Arslan, 42, was stabbed in Finsbury Park on Saturday afternoon. He was taken by ambulance to hospital but later died.

Detectives said they were keeping an open mind about the motive for the attack, but that Mr Arslan was not thought to be the victim of racial violence.

Community leaders called a demonstration in Green Lanes, close to the scene of the attack. About 500 people joined the march, which police said passed peacefully. There were no arrests.

Andrew Gregory, 28, from Maida Hill, west London, appeared at Highgate magistrates' court yesterday charged with murdering Mr Arslan. Police said a 27-year-old woman and two men aged 33 and 34 had been arrested and released on police bail until next month.

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