Crash film becomes global smash
Schools in Wales have vowed to screen a powerful homegrown film about the dangers of texting while driving, despite warnings about its strong graphic content.
Millions of people have watched Cow - a fictional tale made by and starring Blaenau Gwent pupils - on the internet, and it has even been embraced by road-safety campaigners in the United States.
The 30-minute film follows a teenage girl, Cassie Cowan (nicknamed "Cow"), who crashes her car while writing a text message, leading to the deaths of four people, including her two best friends.
The video website YouTube gave a four-minute excerpt of the film an 18 rating, but secondary schools are still planning to use the full-length production as a traffic-safety teaching tool for GCSE and A-level pupils this autumn.
The film was originally aimed at Welsh teenagers in personal, social and health education classes.
Pupils at Tredegar Comprehensive in Blaenau Gwent joined up with Wales- based film director Peter Watkins-Hughes for the third time in 15 years to create the hard-hitting film on a tiny pound;10,000 budget. School-age actresses from South Wales starred in the main roles.
Pupils have previously made films about joyriding and antisocial behaviour that have been used in schools across the UK.
Jeff O'Reilly, former deputy head of Tredegar Comprehensive, said the idea was pertinent as it came directly from pupils themselves.
"We spoke to the school council and to student drivers and they said they were worried about friends who were texting and driving," he said. "They said it's almost a right of passage to become a driver and they focused upon this as a real issue."
At the centre of the film is a dramatic car crash, followed by a poignant look at the impact on the victims' families and friends.
Mr O'Reilly said young people could identify with the story because it featured "typical girls" from South Wales.
"We thought long and hard about how real we could make it," he said. "We wanted to take students to the edge of their seats - the shock factor is there but it's the shock of reality, which is why in making the film we dwelt on the aftermath of the accident.
"We wanted our students to examine their feelings and the effect of the accident on families, friends and the immediate community."
Lyndon Samuel, schools liaison coordinator for Gwent Police, which helped to organise the filming of the crash scene, said the scenario was very realistic.
"The DVD gives an extremely powerful message to young drivers, but also to young people who are passengers," he said. "A lot of secondary pupils have boyfriends or girlfriends who drive. If it saves even one life, it will have been worth it."
Mr O'Reilly is planning to develop a study programme for the film that will include resources and lesson notes, but said teachers should exercise caution.
In 2007, four teenage girls attending Glyncoed Comprehensive in Ebbw Vale were killed in a horrific car crash.
"We have been careful to be aware of pupils for whom it may be too tender, especially as there have been road deaths in the area," Mr O'Reilly said. "We always let parents know we are doing it."
Anna Foote, head of Tredegar Comprehensive, said the film had a strong impact because it was made by the whole Tredegar community, including the emergency services.
"There is a freshness about it and a sense of ownership, not only for Tredegar but for all young people," she said. "They realise that it's youngsters that are appearing in it, not actresses acting young."