7 films that one way or another delve into reality of the Northern Irish Troubles

Across the globe in nearly all major western cities people are gleefully wearing green and parading in a celebration of their Irishness. Drinking, dancing, dressing up, what’s not to love… Though, where I’m currently at, the 17th of March always brings a very contrived atmosphere with it. A quick look at the BBC News website will immediately give it away, as at the very top right next to a piece about the parade in Belfast, you’d find two articles about security alerts (read as bomb threats) in north and south parts of the city. That shows that despite our best wishes there are still people out there, who would like the past conflict to rear its ugly head again.

Well, it’s no surprise that the Irish Troubles and the IRA form a bottomless pit of film material, though it’s all too easy to warp it into a laughable cliché you’d see in films like “Patriot Games”, “The Devil’s Own”, “The Jackal”, or even recently in “Non-Stop”, where it didn’t take too long to draw a parallel between Neeson’s Belfast-born character and the IRA. I know there are countless documentaries out there that are worth checking out and I might at some point compile a list of them, but if you’d like to have a look at the Northern Irish conflict through the lens of a feature film, here is a list of seven titles I believe you should start with: Continue reading

“Good Vibrations” – because Belfast had a reason…

Since this weekend has absolutely zero releases that I consider relevant, with “Iron Man 3” already out since last week and “Star Trek Into Darkness” hitting the theaters next weekend, I decided to focus my weekend movie-going on films that I wanted to see before, but failed due to something seemingly more interesting being released at the same time. And what would be more interesting than to go and see a piece of local cinema?

Now, films that are in any way showing Northern Ireland almost invariably pick up the notorious political subject of The Troubles and movies that do not bring the conflict into the light are hard to come by. Sure, I reckon you’d find some films that completely disregard it, however it would seem almost impossible given the impact the civil war had on this corner of the Earth. And here it is…

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I would be lying if I claimed that “Good Vibrations” is free from any mention of The Troubles. After all, it is a story of Terri Hooley – a brave and vivacious young music lover, who believed that people of Belfast deserved more than the grim war zone. So, in the interest of being exact, “Good Vibrations” is not a film that uses The Troubles to tell a story, but a film that tells a story that happened in spite of it. In it, we meet Terri, a vibrant young man, whose life underwent a dramatic change in the 70’s when Belfast was miles away from being a happy place. Having spent the previous decade going to concerts and being a popular DJ playing his beloved prog-rock to the countless masses, Hooley somehow woke up years later surrounded by silence of the empty clubs and the sounds of distant gunfights. I guess it might have happened to many people in that time, when the country got brutally divided and everyone was somehow forced to take side in a conflict – just by virtue of one’s religious affiliation or political views. There were only Catholics and Protestants and Terri Hooley didn’t feel like he wanted to join any club.

But, he believed in people. Hooley apparently thought that somewhere in this war-torn country there were people like him – people who didn’t care about politics, or religion, or any of that bulls**t that made the news every day – people who shared his passion for music. So, in order to give those people a chance to get out of hiding and have a place where they could feel welcome, and in spite of the whole conflict, Terri Hooley opened a record shop in the center of Belfast and called it ‘Good Vibrations’. Not long after he had started his business, Terri became aware of where the love for music had been hiding, because underneath the layer of violence that made the bulk of everyday life in Belfast, he found a thriving, vibrant and pristine punk scene that had gathered the Northern Irish youth. Following his little discovery, Terri Hooley turned his record-selling business into an underground label focused on promoting the young local talents and thus the ball started rolling. By the 80’s Terri Hooley’s work was well known both in the UK and in the world and everybody knew that Belfast music scene was a force to be reckoned with.

 

Maybe the film emphasized Hooley’s role in establishing the NI punk scene too much, or maybe it didn’t – I’m in no position to judge  The real point of this film is that even in times of peril, loss, war, violence, prejudice, fear and intimidation, people kept looking for something that would unite them in something positive. And that thing was punk, of all the things. The ideas of disregarding the current state of things, rebellion against ‘the man’ and disdain towards the grim reality of life all brought masses together and this is where “Good Vibrations” shines the most. Not the acting, not the direction, not the production value, nor the technical things, but the uplifting atmosphere caught in imagery is this film’s strongest card. Not that I don’t think all the other qualities of this film are brilliant, because they are. In fact, I couldn’t find a single thing I disliked about “Good Vibrations”. Richard Dormer’s performance was just magnificent; light, natural, hilarious and adorable. Just because his portrayal was so engaging, I kept smiling the whole time and by the end of the film (even though not everything was ‘sunshine, rainbows and unicorns’ in Hooley’s life) I couldn’t help but feel happy. The entire ensemble cast was really good, and the fact my favorite stand-up comedian Dylan Moran had a small part in it I can only consider as the icing on the cake.

The lines were really good, the story was well paced, and the entirety of film was funny, entertaining, engaging and unforgettable. In addition, the film was shot in a way that added some color to the story and cleverly situated it within the political mayhem of the 70’s, but retained a healthy distance. It’s clearly visible, how difficult these times must have been, but in the end it only serves to bring the feel-good atmosphere of “Good Vibrations” to a whole new level. As a whole, the combination of all these factors makes “Good Vibrations” a fantastic film to watch. Beyond doubt, the directorial duo of Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn should be proud of themselves. In reality, they probably are with all the awards “Good Vibrations” has scored…

So, if you’re into music, and even if not… Go and see it. Or rent it sometime in the future if you have the chance. Any way, you will not waste your time, but on the contrary, you might learn something new about this little complicated country. On top of everything, “Good Vibrations” was a good bit of fun and I’m sure as hell, I’m going to re-watch it at some point in time.

St. Paddy-related contemplations

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’.