Directors: Ross Heath & Christopher Livermore
Writer: Ross Heath
Cast: Toby Armour, Lauren Woods, Stephen Heath
Running time: 10 mins
Writing critiques of independent films can be an emotional mine-field at the best of times. I always seem to go back to the metaphor that these are people’s babies. They’ve poured their blood and sweat into a film production, and now that it’s finally out in the world, they don’t want the teacher to tell them their sprog is flunking biology.
It takes on a whole new level when discussing a film made as a form of public service announcement. These can be grating and on-the-nose at the best of times, but they are usually made with the wellbeing of others at heart, and usually because the filmmaker has some form of personal connection to the subject matter.
I’ll say this much before I genuinely review Sharp Point; I don’t know Ross Heath or Christopher Livermore personally, and I don’t know whether they, or someone close to them, have suffered the havoc knife-crime can wreak on the lives of innocent people. As it happens, I do not think they did a good job of making a film about it – but that should not be taken as any reflection on their conviction to this issue. Their hearts were clearly in the right place.
Unfortunately, that is about as much about all I can mark out for praise when it comes to Sharp Point. The film does not deliver on any of the key necessities required by its genre. As a rule, a public safety film needs to run for no more than two minutes and as a result, a good short of this kind need to be tightly drilled, with plot and characterisation stripped to its bare minimum, only serving to compliment the core message. At the same time, they should do their best to make the viewer forget they are watching an announcement, establishing a safe and familiar environment which they then disrupt with a sudden shock, leaving the audience to ruminate on the distilled message that comes with the film’s often-chilling ‘punchline.’ This formula has proven so potent The Guardian has even labelled public information films the “true kings of horror.”
Top examples of this include 1973 British Public Information film Lonely Water (a genuinely unsettling short, warning children not to play near deep water, narrated by horror icon Donald Pleasance as Death) and Southwark Council’s harrowing Sunday Lunch (where a mother destroys the safe-space of a family dinner by gunning down her son). Undoubtedly, though, the very best examples of the genre come from the routinely distressing ‘Think’ campaign for road safety – including the infamous short featuring the hit-and-run of a young girl shown in reverse, and the brutally impactful seatbelt campaign which invokes slasher movies, before a mother is crushed to death by her son during a car-crash.
Sadly, as Directors, Ross Heath and Christopher Livermore utterly fail to imbue their film with either the discipline or urgency to deliver the psychological impact such a film requires. Instead, what Sharp Point delivers is a flabby, frequently absurd, slog of a short. A 10 minute run-time for a public information film is already a problem – but then to fill it out with a full 20 second sequence of a woman buttering toast is frankly obscene.
Sharp Point’s sins do not end there, however. There are two voice-overs to further book-end/drag out the on-screen action. Both bring all the gravitas of a Jerry Jackson production to the proceedings, with the opening monologue telling us, “Knife crime can affect anyone, not just people in gangs.” At the same time, it is worth pointing out that if your film begins with “A knife awareness film” – written over a picture of a cartoon knife crossed out – you probably don’t need to further say, “With our film we hope to raise awareness of knife-crime, and hopefully stop knives being carried on our streets.”
Following this introduction, our attention is directed to the morning routine of an ordinary family. A man and woman wake up and get their son ready for school – but do so with such a lack of urgency that the school will probably have closed by the time he arrives. Mum legitimately spends 20-seconds buttering toast – in a seemingly endless single-shot-sequence which made me wonder if I was actually watching a bleak art-installation about the futility of human existence, in the face of the infinity of time.
What the film does do well is that it illustrates familial bonds at break-neck speed, proving it can move fast when it feels like it. Mum finalises date-night plans with Dad, tells her son she loves him, and says she will see them both later. That’s all we needed really. All of us can relate to these human connections on some level. Now we need the sudden shock to make us think about knife-crime and its effects. Sadly, Sharp Point quickly lapses back into its lethargic rhythm, and this doesn’t arrive for another minute.
An unfortunately underwhelming mugging sequence shows Mum getting stabbed to death for her purse in a car-park by someone cosplaying as an IRA member. Is an awfully quick process, she is stabbed and falls down silently, it doesn’t seem scary or painful. Then, having somehow concealed the most valuable item on her from her thief, Mum whips out her smartphone to call home, apparently resigned to her fate. It is undeniably moving for a moment as she uses her final breaths to tell her partner she loves him – but it does not hold up to scrutiny. I think the majority of people would call an ambulance if they were stabbed in the gut – and in fact, a public information film should encourage them to do so!
Following an unseen funeral, viewers are then subjected to a solid minute of motionless, soundless crying, as Dad and Son stand grave-side in a deserted cemetery. As they stumble away through the long-grass of a grave-yard that clearly hasn’t been maintained in some time, never mind recently hosted a burial, the film reaches its underwhelming conclusion and fades to black. It doesn’t end though. Instead, we are left to endure a further three minutes of credits, following the six-and-a-bit minutes of action.
It should not take almost a third of the film to credit the cast and crew; especially this kind of film. There are only about 10 individuals who worked on this production so to the fact the Directors of Photography and Cinematography are credited separately – despite being the same person – seems woefully amateurish. Meanwhile, Ross Heath and Christopher Livermore pick up multiple individual credits as Writers, Directors, Actors, providers of craft services, and so on. This is a tedious, rather unseemly way to conclude an issue-driven film, and has a faint odour of vanity about it, further undermining whatever good intentions the production had.
At this juncture, we are left to wonder who exactly this film is for. Any film festival worth a damn won’t touch it with a barge-pole, because even if the content cut the mustard, a three-minute credit sequence would squander any momentum their shorts programme had built up. TV won’t take it – even if you cut the credits, it is excruciatingly slow for something which would have to appear in a minimal slot between other shows. And finally, YouTube won’t work because amid a sea of other amateur content, something that fails to provoke an instant reaction will quickly be buried by even sub-viral content. In the end, then, that renders this feeling like an exercise in futility, rather than a sudden punch to the stomach that a public information film should be.
Sharp Point ultimately struggles to get to the point. As a result, it delivers a blunt and meandering end-product, which will fail to impact its audience in a way that the subject of knife-crime needs to.
Are you a filmmaker looking for independent professional feedback like this? For honest, straightforward opinions and constructive insight into how you can improve your work, submit your work to Indy Film Library on FilmFreeway now.