Shifty is a debut feature from writer/director Eran Creevy. Set in the outskirts of London, it charts the relationship between two friends: Chris, who is returning for a visit to his old neighbourhood after four years living away, and Shifty, the charismatic young drug dealer of the title.
Shifty was submitted for classification in January 2009. Like other recent urban dramas - Bullet Boy and the Kidulthood films for example – Shifty deals with the familiar issues of drugs and violence. It does so, however, not on grim dystopian streets set in Britain’s inner cities, but in a more mundane suburban environment.
The distributor requested a 15 but the work required cuts to achieve that as it contained several aggressive uses of very strong language. The BBFC Guidelines on language at 15 state that ‘The strongest terms (for example ‘cunt’) may be acceptable if justified by context. Aggressive or repeated use of the strongest language is unlikely to be unacceptable’. In one scene, protecting Shifty and finally settling an old score, Chris violently attacks the drug dealer Glen, head butting him, kicking him and punching him several times hard in the face. As he does this he repeatedly shouts 'C**t ... f**king c**t!'.
Clearly, in combination with the violent action, these were very aggressive uses of the strongest language and as such, in order for the film to receive a 15 certificate, needed to be removed. In the final edit of the film these uses are no longer audible, either cut completely or totally masked by the sounds of the fight. There are, however, still four uses of very strong language in Shifty. The first three of these are variously benign, comic or muttered and so were considered contextually justified at 15. The fourth remaining use still has an aggressive edge to it, however. This is in a scene where one of Shifty’s customers, broke and desperate for a fix, attacks Shifty holding a Stanley knife to his face. As he does so, he hisses at Shifty to 'Be still c**t'. Ultimately, it was decided this could remain because the use was considered more of a warning than violently aggressive and once again, therefore, justified by context at 15.
The BBFC Guidelines are a product of extensive research and public consultation. They are therefore a good reflection of the current attitudes of the British public. And it is the British public who still find the c-word an extremely offensive term and are particularly concerned about its use in an aggressive or violent context.
They also tell us they find discriminatory language increasingly offensive and Shifty also contains several derogatory uses of the word ‘P**i’. However, the characters which refer to Shifty or his family in that manner are depicted as either ignorant or as having misplaced their sense of right and wrong through drug addiction. With BBFC Guidelines also stating ‘The work as a whole must not endorse discriminatory language or behaviour’ the term was also considered appropriately contained by the 15 certificate. Other strong language, including repeated use of the f-word, is also acceptably placed at 15, where BBFC Guidelines make clear it is permitted. Two uses of strong language in Urdu also feature, when Shifty argues with his older brother.
Shifty also contains strong violence. This includes realistic scenes such as the fight mentioned above, a very strong beating and a scene where an addict cuts Shifty with a Stanley knife. Whilst all of these are undoubtedly strong – realistic violence is nearly always more shocking than the sort of fantastical violence you might find in a Hollywood blockbuster - it is actually filmed and edited in a subtle way that masks most of the blows. The strength of the violence is more implied, with an emphasis on the faces of the aggressors and their movements as they prepare to attack, rather than actual detail of the violence. Given that the BBFC Guideline at 15 state ‘Violence may be strong but may not dwell on the infliction of pain and injury’, these scenes were not considered to be inappropriate for older teenagers.
Examiners also considered the drug dealing in the film and hard drug use. We see, for example, heroin, cocaine and crack all being prepared and snorted, and Shifty and Chris smoking cannabis. However, the treatment is complex. For example, Shifty is a drug dealer and whilst he remains a likeable character his life is clearly in a mess and Chris is depicted as strongly disapproving of the drug dealing. Indeed, we learn that he used to sell unspecified pills but that a close female friend died the first time he gave her one. All the other characters involved with drugs in the film are also portrayed in a negative way.
The BBFC Guidelines at 15, state ‘Drug taking may be shown but the film as whole must not promote or encourage drug misuse’. Shifty did not promote or encourage drug use and in fact provides a strongly cautionary tale about the dangers of drugs. The issue was therefore considered very well placed at 15.
Shifty was rated 15 with BBFCinsight that warns of ‘very strong language and hard drug use’. It was selected for National Schools Film Week 2009.