1:54 (Yan England, 2016): Canada
Reviewed by Rachel Gately. Viewed at Metro 4, Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2017.
In the Canadian film 1:54 writer and director Yan England takes us on a ride to an unexpected place and unpacks loads of deeper meaning into direct experience of the effects of bullying. In this film about Tim, a high school track champion who is harassed for his close friendship with Francis, his best friend and science partner, high school can be harsh and isolating. Bullying can easily escalate beyond the point-of-no-return to “normal” behavior and into public displays of the bullies’ quest for power. Far too often, bullying victims suffer in silence, for fear that the slightest whisper could bring unimaginable retribution and exponential future suffering. 1:54 clearly presents this issue and possible results of public escalation. This is an important tale with international appeal that needs to be told on a universal platform.
The selection committee of Santa Barbara International Film Festival made a wise choice when they partnered with the Santa Barbara Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which brought to the festival their own pre-screening PSA contribution. Grab a tissue. Set to John Lennon’s hit “Imagine,” ADL’s opening short Imagine A World Without Hate plucks our heart strings and asks us to imagine a world in which the good guys win by devoting their lives to positive social change. This 2013 ADL production is a standalone tearjerker and works well to gently introduce the primary social issues addressed in England’s brilliant film 1:54.
Set in a real Canadian high school using actual high school students behind regionally-popular professional actors, England filmed during school in order to create the most realistic fictional set he could imagine. He even shot crowd scenes in which the extras had no idea what was about to happen so their reactions would be as genuine as possible. Lead actors Antoine Olivier Pilon (Tim) and Robert Naylor (Francis) did superb jobs of portraying the intimate inner workings of their respective character’s individual motivations and struggles regarding their relationships to each other and to other students. Along with a top-notch supporting cast, the actors, obviously a close-knit team, were carefully and compassionately guided by England to flush out a common myth of justification that bully’s tell themselves and others, “It’s just a joke.”
When faced with a difficult decision, Tim shares what he feels like are his only available options, “Shut up and do nothing or shut up and do something yourself.” Many kids and adults who report having been bullied also report that they told no one. Not even their best friends or closest family members. How many Tim’s or Francis’s are out there needing to see this important story? If this film helps even one boy through a similar situation, it will have earned it’s place among the most well-respected social justice commentaries.
England has given us a tool to begin to open the mysterious long-standing world of bullying within the micro-society that is high school. There is no magic button to push which will make this problem disappear. Through careful and consistent adult dialogue, we may be able to exhume the nuances and incite compassionate action from all sides of the issue. Do the world a favor and see this film.