Based on a true story from Amani Simpson, Amani depicts the inner reflections of a young man battling with his faith after being stabbed seven times.
Arriving in the wake of a renewed focus on knife crime in London, this deeply affecting film removes the ability to address this issue as opinionated bystanders. Instead we are dropped immediately into the dying moments of Amani, the title character, whose convulsing and bloodied body, juxtaposed with the striking eloquence of his spoken word narration forces the audience to humanise the reality of a young life ended by violence, rather than merely sympathise with the abstract concept or dismiss yet another statistic.
Amani takes us on his life’s journey via a conversation with God, held as his journey is seemingly reaching its end. His narration is so beautifully written and is delivered by star, co-writer and co-director Joivan Wade with such bitter poetry, that each word makes it impossible to turn away from the horrifying events taking place on screen while hammering home the ultimate message of this tragic tale – wasted potential.
And it is the concept of potential that directors Wade and Richard Kattah, via a tightly written script from Wade and Ricardo McLeary-Campbell, place front and centre of this tale; an emphasis on what might have been while watching what sadly came to be. Amani is introduced to us as a music-loving violin enthusiast, preparing for his first day at a new school and asking his parents if they think there will be an orchestra that he can join. It is not long before these hopes are poisoned by the realities of attending an inner city school, populated by pupils whose only option for fitting in is to align with the disruptive elements that prey on kids like Amani.
We see Amani’s enthusiasm in the classroom rewarded by mockery from his peers and the absence of encouragement from an overstretched teacher who simply does not have the capacity to support those who want to learn or curb the behaviour of those who do not. It is not long before Amani’s innocence makes him a target and even less time still before his status as a target forces him to fight back. The moment that his first punch is thrown is vividly underscored. Brilliantly using the sound design to transition from the almost ethereal atmosphere of the ambulance in which Amani lies dying, to the overwhelming furore of an uncontrolled classroom where Amani is being harassed to absolute silence as he finally fires back. The impact of the sound alone (without the use of ominous music or elaborate effects) tells us that a line has been crossed.
Amani’s descent is framed, not by impossible choices but by increasingly inevitable outcomes. It is only a matter of time before he settles into embracing a tough persona to dissuade his tormentors from making his life miserable or worse, to win their approval. It is only a matter of time before that path takes him to a point of no return and it is only a matter of time before the consequences of crossing that line come back to haunt him.
As a directing team, Wade and Kattah do not overplay the emotive themes of the story, nor do they succumb to the urge to use convoluted camera work, instead allowing cinematographer Lorena Pages to pick up fleeting but key moments with simple but beautifully composed visuals of the world around Amani. Without overtly highlighting it, these glimpses of the world come to reflect the peace that Amani is searching for, all around him but painfully out of reach. The cinematography, coupled with the gently paced yet jarring and precise editing of Tom Boucher and Benjamin Robertson-Kay, take us between a harsh (but not crucially, not hopeless) reality and a dream state that inserts us into Amani's consciousness and allows us to take stock of an entire life within the film’s 20 minute run time.
It would be disingenuous not to highlight how big a part of the film’s accomplishments lie with the cast. Ellis Witter as a young Amani does a fine job of embodying excitement, vulnerability and darkness as he is tasked with carrying a large portion of Amani’s descent. Being able to simultaneously be the face of the troubled youth that so many associate with juvenile crime and the adorable, loving boy whose face we see when a life is ended so early is no easy task and Ellis does not shy away from or become overwhelmed by this challenge. As he passes the role over to Wade, who embodies Amani in his adult years, Wade benefits from the emotional groundwork laid by Ellis and incorporates that into his at once intense and sensitive performance, taking the double duties of acting and directing very much in his stride.
Similarly, Karen Allen and Paul McKenzie as Amani’s parents embody all of the joy, frustration, guilt and pain of watching a child slip from the hard-working, loving son they were to the bullish and disrespectful young man that they barely recognise. You see the emotional toll it takes on them when they have to make the tough choices that will affect Amani’s future and their resolve to await and guide Amani’s redemption.
There is an innate beauty at the centre of this film – a recognition of life’s frailty and its relentless antagonism. It is a visual representation of the concept of having the serenity to accept what cannot be changed and the courage to change what can. While the subject matter is brutal and horrifying, there are moments of genuine joy and more importantly hope. This film can be taken both as a cautionary tale and as a guide to redemption. Whether it ultimately resonates with you or not, there is real value in young people telling stories that affect other young people and as such Amani is a short film more than worthy of 20 minutes of your time.
Watch Amani now, right here.
Studio: Little Drops Production | Year: 2019 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 20 Mins | Suitability: Mature