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Review: The Fear Factory

Polemic documentary challenges sensationalist media portrayal of youth crime, but suffers from staid approach and lack of young voices, says Georgia Rooney

November 26, 2011
4 min read

See end of review for chance to win The Fear Factory on DVD

Funded by the Nationwide Foundation, The Fear Factory was commissioned by a collaboration of youth agencies hoping to address the misrepresentation of young people and crime in the mainstream media. Featuring interviews with a range of political, legal and media figures, the resulting documentary demonstrates how political rhetoric and sensationalist news reporting has distorted our perception of reality over the past 20 years. The account is justifiably biased, providing a much-needed counterpoint to general mainstream prejudice.

A comparison of tabloids’ youth crime headlines from the past two decades, set against reliable figures, reveals the damaging work of ‘the fear factory’. Since 1979, political parties have engaged in what is described as the ‘law and order arms race’: The goal of politicians has been to sound the ‘toughest’ on crime – which has involved an extreme disregard for the facts. An ex-deputy editor of The Sun gives a first hand example of the process, saying that a piece of his own editorial almost certainly pressured Tony Blair into making reactive statements asserting his ‘tough on crime’ image.

Myth-busting statistics such as: ’83 per cent of people think that crime is on the rise when in reality it is declining’ highlight the power media wields over public perception, and asks us to question what we hear and read every day. A powerful quote from Winston Churchill reminds viewers that in recent eras, politicians saw their responsibility towards law and order as a serious matter, rather than an election-winning tool.

Personal stories are also intertwined with the opinions of politicians and journalists. Two men talk about their experience of the justice system, from young people into adulthood. Their accounts strongly support the underlying propositions of the film, namely that people aren’t ‘born bad’ and that the justice system is gravely inadequate.

While the documentary is informative, its reliance on the spoken and written word to paint the picture makes for an extremely dense film. All of the interviews take place in the same darkened room, with speakers occupying a Mastermind-style leather chair. There is little to break up the continuous interview footage aside from what might be archive footage, and some themed cutaways. These short clips only serve to tease the viewer into thinking they might get a break from the continuous monologues. Cinematically, The Fear Factory sorely disappoints.

The film features only short interview clips with young people, shot in same imposing setting. This is especially disappointing considering that the film was backed by various agencies working with young people involved in the youth justice system. If there wasn’t enough valuable footage of young people to include, a good look at the interview arrangement would explain why. How comfortable could any 15-year-old feel in a formal set-up also deemed appropriate for Cherie Blair? A film that is arguing that young people are misrepresented in the media should really be trying much harder to represent young people at all.

The Fear Factory ostensibly aims to make ‘people’ aware of the influence of the media and to change their views on criminal justice policy. For the most part, it succeeds. The question remains, however, who exactly is the film aimed at? As a seemingly credible source of information The Fear Factory scores highly. As a training and educational resource it could work, but only if it were be broken up with some discussion. As an inspiring piece of filmmaking, it disappoints.

Red Pepper has five copies of The Fear Factory to give away to readers. Email office@redpepper.org.uk with the answer to the question below, by 15 January 2012. Winners will be drawn at random:

What is the name of the commission chaired by Cherie Blair?

Watch the trailer at: www.thefearfactory.co.uk

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