Giant's Causeway and the “Troubles” are both Northern Ireland and don't forget films!
NIFF 2008 Programmer / Makiko Wakai
Northern Ireland might be best known for Giant's Causeway, and perhaps less so as home to Bushmills and George Best. But above all, there are (the hidden treasures of) films. The films go beyond Northern Ireland directors and actors, encompassing the multi-layered film communities that underpin productions infused with the local atmosphere, and the extended periods of “Troubles” as historical background.
Officially the UK is the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", which is not well known in Japan. It is not an exaggeration to say that the reason why Northern Ireland is included in the name itself has been the site of contestation for the "Troubles." The “Troubles,” which continued from 1969 through the on-and off ceasefires of the late-90s, consisted of conflicts between the mainly Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups, the sectarian divide between residents on both sides, as well as the involvement of the Northern Ireland police and the British army. Bombings and murders took the lives of many innocent citizens in Northern Ireland (as well as in Ireland and Britain). Northern Ireland regained self-rule government in May 2007 after many twists and turns, including the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The film history of Northern Ireland embodies this history, as well as crossover between Ireland and Britain. And it is precisely here where its charm resides.
A commercial broadcaster, Channel 4, which started in the 80s in the midst of the “Troubles,” sought programs by local filmmakers that reflected minority voices in the UK. One of the commissioned groups was Derry Film and Video Workshop. Margo Harkin and Anne Crilly as well as Tom Collins, leading feature and documentary directors, came out of that era. Mike Leigh and Paul Greengrass, now household names, depicted the times of “Troubles” in their early works. Documentary filmmaker John T. Davis and Thaddeus O'Sullivan, whose films have shown in Japan many a times, have enthusiastically continued filming Northern Ireland. Declan Lawney and Pete Travis, who have been working in TV, have captured Northern Ireland in various forms. Especially from the 90s, local universities and community centres have played important roles in educating young film academics and filmmakers, as well as organizing film festivals. Young local filmmakers such as Lab Ky Mo and Terry Loane have emerged from this vibrant atmosphere. Northern Ireland actors such as James Nesbitt, Stephen Rea, and Adrian Dunbar continue to cross boundaries from plays and TV dramas to independent and Hollywood films. Space constraints make it impossible to mention numerous other talents such as screenwriters and producers, and there are many wonderful films that we cannot show in this film festival due to limited capacity.
Film commissions such as NI Screen and the Irish Film Board have been funding filmmaking and screenings of local films. BBC NI’s Northern Lights series, which funds and airs shorts, deserves particular mention in terms of TV support and programming. From that series, we are showing Jumpers, Do Armed Robbers Have Love Affairs? and Petrol Country Blues.
Sometimes, I have a sudden urge to say to myself “The Troubles Film Festival.” There is no denying that many, although not all, of the films depict the “Troubles” in some way. These moving stories, and the real depictions of the “Troubles” in quotidian detail, capture audiences worldwide. By depicting the “Troubles” directly or indirectly, or not at all, the films incite laughter, tears, and anger, and most of all, free our minds and invite us somewhere. How do these films, and filmmakers, see and capture the world around them and the universe ahead? The realities and the vague images of the “Troubles” can’t be avoided in relation to Northern Ireland. Yet the worlds created by the distinctive filmmakers of Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain transgress those troubles, and hence create an ever-expanding universe.