So, it is St. Patrick’s Day today again, or rather was, for the most part. Probably, most of the western world associates this day with parades, wearing green, drinking green beer, drinking green shots and various other means of getting inebriated. Not in my parts, though. Well – OK – there are parades, people get hammered and so on, but almost always The St. Paddy’s Day up here in Belfast brings a thick political cloud along with it. And as the helicopters are looming somewhere overhead (a tell-tale sign that something’s up in this town) I can only presume that what started off as a nationwide celebration of Irish heritage once again ended up flaring some trouble at the interface between the Loyalists and the Republicans.
That got me thinking again. Even this morning – which started off rather sad and gloomy – as I was finishing my morning coffee I pondered a question of how Northern Ireland receives only one kind of publicity. I remembered when I was young and most of the knowledge of the outside world was delivered to my brain through movies and quite understandably so, as the majority of information our mind gathers through the sense of vision. Most often I would see something in films that interested me and researched the subjects on my own afterwards (and bear in mind that the Internet was either nowhere to be seen at that time, or I didn’t have access to it because of financial reasons). Nevertheless, the initial spark usually came from the screen. I should say that for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with it, because in the end any biased opinion presented on said screen stood a chance of being rectified by other reliable sources, so my knowledge of the world was not exactly Hollywoodized, if I may define it this way.
However, throughout the years, almost always when I had a chance to see a film that either took place in NI, or its story drew from that place using other means, the resulting film would invariably take up a subject of the age-old conflict between Catholics and Protestants that ravaged this land. Even today, the divide is still there lurking beyond eye’s reach, smoldering in silence and re-igniting every now and then in short bursts of widely condemned violence. But other than that, life out here is not all that different to any parts of the UK or the world for that matter. People go to work, children go to school… Shopping, cinema, tourism, music scene and all that jazz… And yet, if I speak to people from the outside world and mention that I live in Belfast, their brains immediately project on the screens of their imaginations images of violence, IRA gunmen, people in balaclavas throwing petrol bombs, burning cars, and military Humvee’s roaming the streets – the whole caboodle. Why?
I should probably point the finger at the news outlets for reporting only the juiciest most terrifying news from that region, but after all it is their job. No-one in, say, Canada would probably want to read or watch the news about the difficulties in reinvigorating Northern Irish economy and such. In film, however, there are no such restrictions and yet, the vast majority of movies, that touch Northern Ireland in some way, draw from The Troubles. I think I have yet to see a film that while set or centered on this region doesn’t really mention the conflict. Or maybe I could turn it into a challenge? Surely, there has to be a way of shooting a love story in here without tainting it with it. I think that a yet to be released film called “Good Vibrations” might just be what I’m looking for here and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Other than that, I can’t really tell. Maybe “The Magdalene Sisters” could fall into this category, but I couldn’t really tell now.
I believe I can actually turn it into a mini-project of sorts – find and compile films that do not scream ‘Troubles’ but say ‘Northern Ireland’. I hope that this year’s Belfast Film Festival might extend a helping hand on the matter. Additionally, I think I might compile my own ‘best-of’ list of films that take up the subject of Troubles, and there is quite a few gems in that category, so I should get on with it.
Meanwhile, it’s just past midnight, St. Paddy’s is over and I should probably wrap it up and say ‘good-night’.