She can’t hear you, she’s checking her screen

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Don’t play on the railway line! Don’t run in the corridor! Don’t swim in the quarry! Children of the 1970s knew exactly where they stood when it came to risk. Danger lay in action. Act unwisely and bad things will follow.

What to expect from a modern take on risk? More warnings about the dire consequences of foolish behaviour?

The exact opposite, in fact. The world is clearly a safer place, 40 years on from the humble safety film. For the young filmmakers entering this competition risk is something that lies not in action, but inaction.

Several themes emerged: climate change, street crime, the effects of social media on young people. The dangers are insidious but the message was clear: do nothing at your peril.

Many of the films confused risk with drama. Full marks for the drama, but it’s stretching the definition of risk if we’re to be worried about a character missing an appointment.

The winning entry explored nothing less than a risk to humanity – big themes delicately handled in Me Miphone & I by Juan Cruz-Hernández. If the series Black Mirror is a sprawling Hogarth, this was an intricate miniature, a pen portrait of an individual hurtling towards oblivion without leaving her mark on the world. You wondered for a moment where the risk lay – our character crosses the road without looking and doesn’t thank the waiter who brings her coffee – but the filmmaker has bigger fish to fry.

A familiar pattern emerges of a young person imprisoned behind glass walls. By the end of three minutes you’re screaming at her to break out. She can’t hear you – she’s checking her screen. The filmmaking was aided by a terrific central performance, a convincing portrayal of a young person sleepwalking through life. Me Miphone & I is warm, seductive, and therein lies the risk – and the film’s power.

Flight Risk was a subtle and engrossing piece of filmmaking which explored multiple themes of risk. Making the most of a small budget, the filmmaker put his faith in the actors, exploring ideas of trust and betrayal between three members of the same family – two sisters and an off-screen mother. The dialogue was believable and the metaphor of glasses quietly effective. If there was any criticism, the narrative meandered in the final third – the older sister needed time to reflect but the audience did not, so effectively the dilemma had already been established.

If the prize had been for pure filmmaking, Inertia was a runaway winner. A sumptuous portrait of a street vendor in an unnamed Indian market, the film – like many of the entries – was a warning about the risks of doing nothing. A stallholder experiences a fleeting moment of existential angst as the blade of a knife hovers over a helpless chicken and a passing boy drinks it all in with something approaching fascination and terror. We’re frustrated that he fails to act on his revelation, but would any of us?

Let’s Plan a Holiday was a Ronseal movie, which did exactly what it said on the tin. An engaging three-hander about flatmates faced with a big decision: save the world or go to the pub. The relationship between the characters was authentic and convincing. A neat premise efficiently delivered, with more than a spoonful of humour to make the medicine go down.

Risk was a refreshing mix of poetry and prose, told partly to-camera and partly through snapshots of life in the city. A number of competition entries explored everyday social and workplace dangers faced by women, but this edgy film stood out for its autobiographical daring and first-person evocation of risk. If there’s any criticism – and this applies to many of the submitted entries – it was in the choice of music, which seemed oddly impersonal and worked against the feeling of dislocation.

An honourable mention to Days Passed. Despite rough-and-ready production values, this was a film bursting with things to say. Too often the competition entries used up valuable seconds on credits and titles. Here the drama was established immediately: a schoolboy is invisible to his friends, but why? What happened to him? Can his friends not see him, or are they just ignoring him?

The story was unresolved – we never find out what leads the central character to kill himself – but the work avoided movie clichés and second-hand dialogue. The images captured a kind of loneliness even in familiar urban settings, and the shooting – including, literally, a shooting – was sensitively handled.

If a young person can put themselves in danger simply by leaving the house, we can’t ask them not to leave the house. The change must come from us, not them. The risks lie in doing nothing.

Existential risk, then, rather than overhead power lines or murky quarry pools. At least you knew where you stood with the latter. Full marks to the young filmmakers in this competition for alerting us to the dangers of simply staying alive.


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