Through its blurry disjointed opening, Wale grounds its viewers in a dizzying depiction of the nefarious nature of London’s urban nightlife.

Shot from the back of a moving car, it is a gritty and powerful intro that lays much of the film’s thematic groundwork. Eventually, the camera settles on a shot of a high rise. It is here where we meet our protagonist, a young black male offender named Wale (Raphel Famotibe).

As an 18 year old with a criminal history, past thief Wale attempts to prepare for his future life by utilising his skills as a newly trained mechanic. Wale’s attempts at enterprise at first seem fruitless in the unforgiving environment of modern day London. However, an effort to sell his talents on a trip down Hackney market seem to finally bare fruit when he meets O’Brian (Jamie Sives). However, O’Brian’s sinister motivations for employing Wale are soon revealed, with the cultural prejudices surrounding Wale’s colour and criminal history coming to the fore.

The film features the beautiful soundtrack from Luis Almau, whose previous credits include Score Engineer for 2013’s Jonathan Glazer film, Under the Skin. Wale’s soundtrack is unsettling and otherworldly, encouraging the viewer to question the familiarity of Wale’s experience and the seeming inevitability of its consequences.

A huge part of this thriller’s success is no doubt down to Almau’s genius and affecting soundtrack.

Famotibe’s performance is every bit as tender and charming as Sives’ is unsettling and cold.  Interactions between the two provide some of the real highpoints of the film.

Clare Perkins in Wale Miro Review

Clare Perkins in Wale

Wale has thus far achieved a great deal of critical success, including a BAFTA nomination for Best Short Film. Perhaps this should be unsurprising given how accomplished the project’s all star production team is.

Whilst Wale may be writer/director Barnaby Blackburn’s narrative film debut, he does already boast a BAFTA for his promo for BBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. Likewise, the film is produced by industry established Ed Speeler’s, star of 2006’s fantasy film Eragon and more recently of Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall.

Catherine Slater, also offers her expertise as Producer, having started her career out at the Imaginarium Studios assisting Andy Serkis on projects such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Des Hamilton also lends his impressive experience with casting, having previously worked on projects including Tyrannosaur, Bronson and Top Boy. These positions, combined with the work of Director of Photography, Robbie Bryant (Locke and Cinderella) make Wale a short film inundated with talent and experience.

It’s script is full of dramatic twists and culturally thematic events, which give its actors the opportunity to have a wide scope of performance. There are some carefully chosen moments where a handheld style is adopted, achieving its intention of pulling the viewer into the chaotic events of Wale’s world. It truly is an impressive short that marks writer/director, Barnaby Blackburn, out as one to watch for the future.

Verdict: ★★★★

Sam  was lucky enough to touch base with the aforementioned Barnaby Blackburn, to get his insight on the development of the film:

SB: The music underpinning the film is exceptional throughout. I’m a huge fan of the Under The Skin soundtrack on which Luis Almau was also involved. How did your relationship and ideas develop during the production?

BB: I was fortunate that aside from being an exceptionally talented composer, Luis is also a close friend. We’d worked together on a commercial a few years ago and it felt like we were talking the same language when it came to music. So as soon as I started to develop the project I asked Luis if he’d write the score.

When I’m writing I always have music and sound in mind, so I wanted to engage those departments as soon as possible, rather than it be an afterthought. What you hear in a film is just as important as what you see, so when I’m prepping I want to know the way certain shots or scenes will work aurally as well as visually.

Luis and I work in a very organic way. We started by just discussing the script, its themes and tones. I’d also made a playlist of things I’d been listening to whilst writing the script. When we chatted about the film, we’d listen to some of these pieces. I would talk about the qualities I liked in these references in a very visual way: “This piece feels like we’re emerging through a low-hanging morning fog” and things like that, which Luis understood immediately. So it felt from the beginning like we had a way of communicating about what we did or didn’t want the music to feel like.

After these initial discussions, Luis began to experiment with some demos which immediately had a lot of the atmosphere I was looking for. This involved him playing a viola in an unconventional way, creating an eerie aesthetic but without being too emotionally forceful. Listening to them immediately began to conjure images that felt relevant to the film, so we kept exploring this area and I would give him suggestions in that shorthand way we’d developed; “more fog here”, “this feels too much like a king entering his court”, and so on.

Once Luis had demos for each cue in the film, we brought in a professional cellist to add depth to the original demos. But adding these layers somehow took away from the beautiful strangeness that Luis had captured in the demos and made the score sound more conventional. So most of the music in the film is from those original demos that Luis created.

Raphel Famotibe in Wale Miro Review

Raphel Famotibe in Wale

SB: The film has such a strong opening, and it did a great job of investing me from the off. How challenging was it to get that opening right?

BB: I’ve always liked watching people on the street from the back seat of a car. And if you’ve got the right piece of music playing whilst doing so it feels very cinematic. So I took that as the inspiration for the opening of the film; the camera capturing the streets at night around where Wale lives in a handheld documentary style. I wanted to immediately place the audience in the world that the film inhabits so that they comprehend Wale’s situation. All the nefarious activity that he wants to get away from is sitting right there on his doorstep.

We shot all of this in a freeform way; me in the front seat, my brother driving, my DP Robbie Bryant operating the camera in the back. We staged about 4 of the shots, the rest were just things we captured by chance. I’ll let you guess which are which!

SB: There is one particular scene, on the steps of Jamie Sives’ character’s property, that really gives the film’s main two actors the chance to show off their capabilities. Did directing that particular scene call for anything different from you?

We’d done some rehearsals with Jamie and Raphel in the days before we shot the film, but had never approached this particular scene. I wanted it to be raw and unhinged, so rather than having them rehearse it, I just left it until we did the first take on the night, hoping that the tension was bubbling up inside both of them.

When we finally shot it after a long day of filming, it was extraordinary. It was as if they’d been saving everything for this moment and everybody watching around the monitor was absolutely engrossed. I think there’s a picture somewhere of us watching that scene unfold with a ridiculous grin across my face.

SB: Wale has a very open ending. Was that always the case in the project’s early drafts, or was this an ending that was arrived at through development?

BB: The ending was something I thought about a lot. I wrote different versions of the script that had a more definitive ending. But as I thought about it more and as me and my editor, Edward Line, experimented and finessed, it felt right to leave the ending open.

I wanted to leave people asking questions rather than giving them all the answers. I think if your film can create a lasting effect on the audience and have them thinking about the questions it raises, that it’s more impactful than just spoon-feeding them everything.

Most people who watch the film seem to develop a real connection with Wale’s character and a genuine concern for his well-being. I think the way the film ends amplifies that concern because they don’t know how things will turn out for him.

See if Wale picks up the BAFTA at the award ceremony on Sunday 10 February.