Movie Review: A BRIXTON TALE (Slamdance Film Festival)
In a year where the film industry has seemingly come to an abrupt halt, the Slamdance Film Festival has given it momentum. Pivoting to a virtual event this year, the 2021 lineup features 25 feature films along with 107 shorts and episodics, and a new program titled Unstoppable, a showcase for creators with disabilities. Founded in 1995, this artist-led, community-focused home for indie filmmaking has bucked the system of traditional festivals by presenting movies that cannot be placed in a particular category or check a particular box.
A Brixton Tale is one of those films. A culture clash about race, class and the dangers of instantaneous social media centers around Leah, an aspiring artist and filmmaker from the right side of the tracks, who becomes involved with Benji, a rough and tumble boy from one of Brixton’s tougher council houses.
Looking to capture a portrait of Brixton’s seedier underbelly, Leah takes to the streets, where she is drawn to Benji, her unsuspecting subject. Part artist, part voyeur and documentarian, she begins to film Benji and his mate Archie. Striking up an instant kinship, the trio dives deeper into Brixton’s culture of drugs, parties, gangs and violence.
Social status meets social media as Leah lives between two worlds when she leaves her posh home to voraciously record her friends’ struggles in an area afflicted by looming gentrification, crime, poverty and addiction. As she documents this unsavory world for a gallery show, she becomes involved with Benji, a situation that creates tension for both of them.
As their two worlds collide, Benji and Leah each feel the tug of society gnawing away at them. Their forbidden dalliance becomes even more complicated after they pursue edgier content for the project. This decision leads to some unsettling moments with the police, a gang leader and Charles, a rich boy with a dangerous edge. The drama tightens to a violent crescendo when Leah becomes drawn closer to Benji. As their passion burns, a conflicted Leah is forced to choose between her heart and desire to be a prolific artist.
Beneath the grime and urban drama of A Brixton Tale lies an ensemble of talented actors who undoubtedly will move on to bigger things. Tabbed as an actress on the rise at the 2017 British Film Awards, Lily Newmark shoulders the film’s moral ethical themes on art and society with a brilliant performance that incorporates facial expressions and body language, giving Leah an aspect of fragility that lurks beneath her steely exterior.
Ola Orebiyi is a powerhouse. Using silence to speak volumes, he excels in his first lead role. His nonchalance gives Benji a profound sense of calm as the world crumbles around him. Orebiyi’s performance as an innocent teen to victim caught up in maelstrom of crime and punishment propels the film.
Soon to be seen in The Batman, Craige Middleburg gives Archie a vulnerability and pathos as his drug addiction spirals out of control. In a place where there is little hope of getting out, his portrayal of the film’s most tragic character offers glimpses into the seedy culture of Brixton’s council estates.
Filled with unrelenting uneasiness, A Brixton Tale brilliantly juxtaposes aspirations with frustrations as it explores the choices artists make as they create their work and the effects this drive for appreciation can have on their subjects. Unflinchingly grounded in Brixton’s nightlife. Directors Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrocher’s raw realism (they even employed several estate residents for supporting roles) is a candid and powerful look at how the fates of the beleaguered are often exploited, sidestepped and abandoned for high art and personal gain.
The 2021 Slamdance Film Festival run virtually through February 25th. For passes and more information visit www.slamdance.com.