Wide angle: Going the distance

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"It's a bit mad, isn't it?" exclaims Shane Meadows (far right), contemplating the media merry-go-round he's found himself on since completing TwentyFourSeven (right). It's the 26-year-old film-maker's freshman feature, having previously made 25 shorts with just a camcorder and some mates. Festival screenings of the pounds 1.5m film have received standing ovations, and worldwide-sales have been brisk. "You put so much work into a feature film, it's great to get to the other side and find that people really love what you've done," he enthuses.

TwentyFourSeven is a first for the Midlands wunderkind in that it's been shot on 35mm film, in shimmering black-and-white, by an experienced director of photography, and features an established star. Bob Hoskins plays Darcy, a latterday Good Samaritan, who attempts to engender dignity and pride among a group of local lads by opening a boxing club. In terms of sheer quality, the film represents a leap forward for Meadows; however, he thinks it's the message that people like.

"It says so much about the Eighties and the Nineties," he claims, "and about people who blame kids for what they're like. I'm from the generation where you did a two-year YTS for dog-shit money and then at the end of it were told, 'See ya'. I'm from the generation who thinks they've been fucked over. Mates who did those schemes would hang around the town, angry at how they'd been treated, and older people wouldn't know how to respond to them. But in TwentyFourSeven, Darcy comes in and goes, 'These kids have got nothing to believe in and no-one to believe in them, so I'm going to do it'."

As in Jim Sheridan's The Boxer, the boxing club Darcy sets-up has a metaphorical significance which goes beyond the meat and muscle of the sport. For Meadows, boxing represents "an arena in which you can put people and give them a family. It could have been a football team, but I didn't want to make a football flick. I went to boxing myself, and the difference between football and boxing is that with boxing it doesn't matter a jot whether or not you have money - when you get punched on the nose, it still hurts. That's the beauty, and the reason why I wanted to make the film."

Meadows recalls, with obvious affection, a Darcy-like mentor in his own past. Ironically, this one did set-up a football team. It was, he says, the worst one in the world. "At the time I just thought, 'I'm in a crappy football team, la-di-dah.'." But like the character in TwentyFourSeven, who finds Darcy's diary and suddenly realises the positive impact he had on his life, time has made Meadows appreciate the significance of that experience.

"Five years down the line, you've left home and you're lying there thinking about your past, and you realise that when you go back to your home town, the only reason there's a bond between you and those other guys is because of that team. That's something we've got as a common experience, no matter whether I become a multi-millionaire or a coalminer. We were involved in something that wasn't about success, but about putting people together. That's really affected and inspired me."

Because Meadows' films are all deeply rooted in working-class life, he's frequently compared to social realists like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Although he doesn't mind ("It's better than being compared to someone that directs Teletubbies"), this narrow attempt to pigeon-hole him ignores the affectionate tone of his films.

Meadows comes from the very community he documents, and his characters are often inspired by people he's either met or observed. All his films, he says, are "celebrating people who'd normally never get a chance to be in one because no one would ever consider them interesting enough for a story."

His next tale of ordinary people will be a portmanteau-piece, called A Room for Romeo Brass. For the moment, though, he's concentrating on keeping his feet on the ground. "If someone had said to me five years ago, 'You're going to make one feature film and then you'll go and work at the local shoe shop,' I'd be going, 'Wow! And I get to travel the world. Wicked!' Right now, it's about not losing what this meant to me a year ago, and making sure that I enjoy it."

'TwentyFourSeven' is released on 27 March