Tuesday, 7 September 2010
Sunday, 6 September 2009
The film tells the story of a fictional 17-year-old girl, Cassie Cowan (nickname COW), who is distracted by her mobile for a few seconds while driving with two friends.
COW – a "nice girl from a nice valleys family" – causes a devastating crash which kills her friends and another couple. The impact and its aftermath is portrayed in vivid, harrowing and bloody detail.
One girl's face hits the windscreen with sickening force. A child in the car COW crashes into asks: "When will mummy and daddy wake up?" while a baby strapped into a child seat stares unblinking and may be dead.
Actually, police had intended to commission a different film – on joyriding. But when they spoke to pupils at Tredegar comprehensive, the youngsters told them that texting while driving was a much more important issue for them.
With a budget of £10,000, film-maker Peter Watkins-Hughes was asked to write and direct the film. Local people donated props including the cars that are smashed up and the locations while Watkins-Hughes and his cast gave their time.
A 30-minute version of the film is due to be shown for the first time this autumn but Watkins-Hughes put a four-minute clip of it on YouTube (entitled COW test 001) to show it to a friend. For weeks the clip remained unnoticed by anyone but the friend and a few crew members.
Then suddenly it began to attract hits. It was copied on to other sites, attracted attention around the world and within a couple of weeks became one of the most popular viral videos. Today it was still ninth on one global viral video chart. Clips about Oasis and Jay-Z were at first and second place.
Watkins-Hughes said it felt like being in an Ealing comedy when a small Welsh community had suddenly attracted worldwide attention.
The "weirdest" moment for him was when his explanation, "We've gone for grim reality", was a quote of the day on the Time website.
Watkins-Hughes said he thought it was so powerful because the violence of the crash was shown but the film then "lingered" on the human price – the baby, the child asking about his mother and father. And the screams of COW, who survives the crash.
The film has struck such a chord in the US where the danger of texting while driving is a big issue because it is not illegal in all states. The trend in America has been to try to get the anti-texting message across more gently through humour or playing on the emotions but not showing violence.
However, one survey in the US found that 80% of people who had seen the Gwent film were less likely to text while driving than before.
In the UK, the road safety charity Brake, having been asked to watch the clip by the Guardian, praised the film-makers and said it was important to show the reality of road crashes.