Writers: Rupert Baynham, Darragh Carey and Chi Mai
Directors: Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers
When filmmakers turn the camera on themselves it is usually in Hollywood, and few go behind the scenes of independent filmmaking. A Brixton Tale, showing as part of The Glasgow Film Festival, puts a documentary-maker at the heart of a fictionalised story about the piece she creates and the relationship she develops with a young man filmed on the streets of Brixton. Rupert Baynham, Darragh Carey and Chi Mai’s film pointedly suggests whoever holds the camera controls the narrative.
Ophelia, known as Leah, is creating footage near Brixton Tube Station when she sees Benji handing out leaflets with his friend Archie. Instantly attracted, Benji soon becomes the principal subject of her documentary which she plans to submit to a local festival. As Leah becomes more involved in Benji’s life, the consequences of her films come between them and she makes a fateful decision that changes everything for them both.
At just 75-minutes, this relatively short debut piece by Directors Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers has some interesting insights into the power of recorded images and how an individual story can be manipulated, edited and entirely recast by putting the pieces together in a different order. Yet, there are lots of tone changes across A Brixton Tale that sometimes confuse its central purpose as Leah seeks out grittier footage. This results in the light touch inclusion of gang culture, revenge porn, class and racism as a frame for this developing love story without the necessary time or depth to tackle even one of these themes in sufficient detail.
The film is strongest in the first 45-minutes which charts Leah’s first encounters with Benji and Archie, merging footage from her own camcorder with professionally captured film that gives the movie a fresh urban energy that conveys the excitement of their connection and the freedom they feel in each other’s company. This is interestingly tempered by the implication that Leah is being dishonest, filming in secret and perhaps even using her new friends just to complete her film.
The stakes are raised when the couple attend a party where Benji is treated with distain by Leah’s pretentious friend. It suggests a far more interesting clash of cultures than A Brixton Tale eventually delivers. The film loses some of its tension as Leah’s film is finally shown and an all-to-brief confrontation sets them in a different direction, filling the final 30 minutes with a more predictable series of events and an outcome where Leah’s film editing skills are crucial.
Lily Newmark is a collection of potentially interesting contradictions as Leah, sometimes shy and daunted by the experiences she films and at others confrontational, even cruel in her single-minded pursuit of her directorial vision. As the film reveals her more comfortable background, Newmark suggests why Leah is drawn to this alternative side of Brixton, but we never really understand her motivation.
For Benji, it is a case of wrong place, wrong time – as his cousin Darius points out, none of this would have happened if he hadn’t met Leah. Played by Ola Orebiyi, it is interesting to see a softer interpretation of a young man keen to avoid trouble and Orebiyi gives Benji an underlying melancholy that is very sympathetic, particular as events conspire against him.
A Brixton Tale uses different kinds of film and fast-moving camerawork to create immersion in the story, capturing the impression of first love, the disorientation of parties and a less familiar vision of urban life in the capital. Yet as its central character hides behind her camera, the final portion of the film fails to reach a satisfying conclusion.
The Glasgow Film Festival runs here from 24 February until 7 March 2021