Relentlessly bleak study of life on the East Durham coalfields of England makes Ken Loach pics look like teen comedies. Made by the politically inspired Amber Collective, "Shooting Magpies" walks the line between drama and nonfiction in a manner sure to make it welcome at docu and feature film festivals.

Relentlessly bleak study of life on the East Durham coalfields of England makes Ken Loach pics look like teen comedies. Made by the politically inspired Amber Collective, which has lately specialized in capturing the last traces of the mining culture, “Shooting Magpies” walks the line between drama and nonfiction in a manner sure to make it welcome at docu and feature film festivals. Tube play will be limited to English-lingo outlets, and subtitles might be needed even then because of the dense Northern accents.

Emma Dawson, who participated a decade back in an Amber project on teen moms, anchors pic as Emma, a hausfrau struggling to get her out-of-work partner (Darren Bell) off smack, which has lately invaded the rural area. Aside from the title sport, the only other local activities are harness racing and dealing in stolen goods. Barry (Barry Gough) stands out as a rare intelligent male, making him almost a de facto social worker in the nabe. Very slightly sweetened with spare electronic music, handheld, variably acted pic takes risks by having central characters occasionally address the camera to give context. Remarkably, this doesn’t dissipate tale’s rough power.

Shooting Magpies

U.K.

Production

An Amber Collective production, in association with Channel 4 and the Northern Rock Foundation. (International sales: Amber Collective, Newcastle-on-Tyne, U.K.) Produced by Richard Grassick, Ellin Hare, Sirka-Iiisa Konttinen, Kerry Lowes, Murray Martin, Pat McCarthy, Graeme Rigby, Peter Roberts, Annie Robson, Peter Scott. Directed by Amber Collective. Screenplay, Richard Grassick, Ellin Hare, Sirka-Iiisa Konttinen, Kerry Lowes, Murray Martin, Pat McCarthy, Graeme Rigby, Peter Roberts, Annie Robson, Peter Scott.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Amber Collective; editor, Imagine; music, Rick Taylor, Frank Gibbon. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Cinema of Our Time), Oct. 9, 2005. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Emma Dawson, Barry Gough, Brian Hogg, Jade Bell, Shannon Harker, Darren Bell, Joe Armstrong.
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