Shooting Magpies is the latest film produced by Northeast England’s Amber Collective, formed in 1969, “with a self-determined remit to record working-class life,” according to the British Film Institute website. While Amber mostly specializes in, and is best known for, documentary cinema, Shooting Magpies is the collective’s ninth fiction film, one nonetheless containing strong elements of documentary — non-professional actors in fictionalized versions of real-life scenarios taking place in depressed East Durham, a coal mining town hit by a crippling heroin epidemic. The result is a realist drama more admirable in conception than execution.
Emma, a young mother of two, is trying to get her loser boyfriend, Darren, off “the shit” even as he stubbornly resists intervention. Meanwhile, Emma’s friend Barry, a former youth counselor, gets entangled in the suicide of a heroin user and his retribution-seeking father. That should be enough drama to carry a succinct, modest film like Shooting Magpies. The problem is, Shooting Magpies is too modest. The digital video camera work is pedestrian and flat; the performances, supplemented by on-camera interviews, summon empathy without bringing the fire of firsthand experience. There’s something to be said for a film about heroin that doesn’t resort to sensationalism — indeed, is faithful to the grinding, daily torture of addiction and its repercussions — but Shooting Magpies remains largely forgettable.
November 10-16 at Antholoy Film Archive