Six riveting PSAs from the Arrows Awards

Categories: Film and TV
Courtesy Walker Art Center
It's not merely glossy-eyed, consumerist Anglophilia that drives people to the British Arrows Awards, the annual Walker-hosted festival of prize-winning U.K. advertising. The Arrows, which opens this Friday and has already sold out many of the weekend shows, can be as engaging as any other short film festival, especially when it comes to conceptual storytelling and clever visual effects. And while it can be fun to see agencies find diverting and creative ways to sell department stores or cars, it's arguably the Public Service Announcements that leave the most lasting impressions. With roughly 90 seconds or less to bring home a message that stirs people into action, PSAs have little time to mess around, and often tend to be the most dramatically compelling and visually haunting entries every year.

Here's six of the best from the past few years.

Barnardo's: Turn Around

If you want to get a quick but effective lesson in how context can change everything in a film -- even a 60-second one -- this palindrome of a spot for youth charity Barnardo's is it. A shaky, distressed girl's voice details her experience running away from home and the trauma that follows, then, once the PSA hits the halfway mark, talks about how Barnardo's helped her turn her life back around. Literally, in visual terms -- shots of situations that show her going through her tough times are reordered in reverse and used verbatim, with her recovery narrative entirely transforming what the visuals imply. The combination of the narration's low-fidelity audio and the starkly-shot, almost neo-noir-quality cinematography only emphasizes the effect.

Central Office of Information: Breathe

The COI -- the U.K. government's communication agency, dissolved in 2011 during austerity measures -- has been responsible for decades' worth of spots that left indelible impressions on easily-freaked-out British youths (and previously complacent adults). The best ones take a simple message and make it high-concept enough to let the life-or-death facts become absolutely impossible to shrug off, like this fire safety PSA's comparison of smoke inhalation to drowning that makes for some of the most haunting underwater imagery you'll see.

Scottish Government: No Knives Better Lives

A lot of commercials have been taking their cues from viral videos since YouTube became a phenomenon, and it's no surprise that one significant inspiration is Muto, a stop-motion graffiti animation by street artist Blu that's notched nearly 11 million views. Using the wall-as-canvas format to echo the landscape of working-class streets, the story of this anti-knifecrime PSA is simple to the point of archetype, featuring a bullied kid who mortally wounds an assailant and goes to jail for it. But it takes on deeper resonance when it's splayed across the walls of a real-world neighborhood, and the moments where it literally breaks the fourth wall -- or gets incarcerated behind it -- make it more than just a gimmick.

Location Info


Walker Art Center

1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Film

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