Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Council training video given red carpet premiere

The film 5:59 was created to help social workers and police empathise with young drug dealers

Hero for Council training video given red carpet premiere
Local young man Asaph Lomena plays an older gang member (credit: OMGMedia)
By Victoria Munro 04 January 2022

A short film intended as a council training video has premiered in a Walthamstow cinema and could spread outside the borough after exceeding all expectations.

Waltham Forest Council commissioned local director Neil Garrett and Voices in Partnership, a group for at-risk teenagers, to create a video encouraging empathy for young offenders.

The resulting film 5:59 follows a social worker who receives a call about a young man’s arrest at the very end of her shift and the consequences of choosing either to pick up the phone or let it ring.

The film's social worker played by Sherry Davis (credit: OMGMedia)

The film, Neil explains, was meant to help council staff, police and other professionals “re-evaluate” young people who have been groomed into dealing drugs but so impressed the council that they gave it a red carpet premiere at The Empire in Walthamstow.

Asaph Lomena, who plays an older gang member, said no one in ViP expected the film they wrote and starred in to be “as good as it was”.

He told the Echo: “At first I was not at all on board with it. None of us are actors and we don’t really like being on camera, it’s not really our thing.

“But most of us know people that have been involved in drugs so we thought, if it comes from us, it would be more effective than if it came from people who haven’t been through it.”

After growing up as a young black man in the borough, he knows firsthand how important it is to change the way authorities like the police treat young people.

He said: “Police would use force, put us on the ground and bind our arms behind our backs when we were not even being aggressive, it made our relationship with them very negative. Some police know how to deal with young people but the vast majority don’t seem to.”

According to Neil, the lived experiences of his team also made the process of writing the film far easier, as they improvised expressions he had “never heard in [his] life”.

A still from the finished film (credit: OMGMedia)

He said: “It was amazing and so authentic because it’s where some of these kids came from, I couldn’t wait to get it on camera.

“We didn’t have the budget or resources to do scenes with dialogue off a script, which would have complicated the process, so the whole thing was improvised.

“But as I was watching them, I thought ‘this deserves a much bigger budget, it could be a feature film’. For non-actors, they were doing remarkably well.

“None of us went into this thinking the film would have a cinema premiere, it all came about as a result of people higher up in the council seeing it and thinking it was incredible.”

The project is one of many that ViP’s members, aged 14-19, have been involved in and one that has netted Asaph further work doing voice overs for Waltham Forest and Islington Councils.

Fellow member Mohamed Ali, who worked on the film behind the camera, said that, in only three years, Voices in Partnership had entirely transformed his worldview.

He said: “I was a bit hesitant at first and didn’t see it going anywhere but I thought let’s just see. [Being involved] has changed my whole mentality: I want to be involved with other people’s stuff and see what I can contribute.”

Next year, the team hope to see their film spread even further and have so far had a “great response” from cinemas like the Barbican.