I’d expected this documentary on Sky1 to be depressing, and in many ways, it was, but at the same time, there was something uplifting about it, and I suspect that came about because of filmmaker Chloe Ruthven’s obvious fondness for the subjects of her film, Mario and Nini.
Ruthven first met the boys in 2003 when she was working in a London primary school. Her job was to offer extra tuition to the kids who were falling behind in class, and in order to liven it up, she brought in a camera one day and the rest became the history of the boys’ childhoods.
And it was a regrettably familiar history; poverty, a failing education system and a society entrenched in gang culture meant that as the boys grew, they reflected back what their particular society had taught them. Most notably, this was that violence is commonplace and cool, and that crime pays, if you don’t mind the odd stint in the nick that is.
We saw them go from being already affected nine year old boys to teenagers who worked hard on refining their jaded attitudes and equally as hard on fitting in, which for them equated to committing crimes and talking as though they’d been raised on the streets of Brooklyn.
By the time the boys were 13, Nini told Ruthven “I’m not gunna be a proper gangster, killing people and stuff, but I’ll be having my own car, all customised and stuff.” And on the subject of what their friends were doing, Nini said they were out on a stealing spree which he was initially going to join them in but instead, he went to get a hair cut. Could it be that he was trying by any means to avoid becoming a criminal? Quite possibly, but he didn’t dare admit it, which was rather sad.
But when the boys were filmed going on a camping trip, it was as if they’d been given permission to just be kids again. Away from the judgemental stares of their peers, they joyously reverted to being just boys, but it was upsetting because you just knew that it had to end; they’d go back to their lives and back to the expectations that are almost set in stone for them, unless they can change it for themselves.
As the programme ended, a postscript stated that Mario hopes to join the Paras, and that Nini wants to be a commando. Let’s hope that in fact they do achieve those aims. At least then, if they have to kill, it’ll be in an official war zone and not in the unofficial one that dominates in our inner-city streets.