Three Monkeys Online

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Holy Cross – The Dilemmas of docudrama

But that’s exactly the point isn't it? The police force in this case are trying to keep a barrier between the protestors and the children – suggesting a legitimacy. You get the feeling that if this happened on the “mainland”, people would be arrested – again, it just wouldn't be allowed.

Absolutely. When you look at footage you wonder “Why was this allowed to go on”. But also you've got missiles and rocks raining down on the RUC.

It's to the film’s credit, I think, that you showed the position of the RUC – hated by both sides, which has become one of the anomalies of the recent years.

Possibly even more aggresively hated by the Protestant community, who feel betrayed by them.

This film has been shown at a human rights festival, amidst films on Genocide and human rights abuses. Does it feel strange as a British film maker to be showing a film about Ireland at a festival like this?

It is strange, but I'm pleased. People have lost their lives in the Troubles, and while less so of late, it is a massive sore that requires huge effort from all sides to resolve and what's so troubling is – if you see what hatred can do, what it can visit onto the next generation – that's the crucial point of this story. It means that those kids in both communities, they can't get rid of those memories – they take them through into adult life, and who knows how that will inform who they are and what they'll do.

It was kind of left open in relation to the two girls – there didn't seem to be an indication of how this ultimately would affect them, and what will their future be? A difficult dramatic choice again?

Maybe – but I think that clearly Siobhan – the Catholic girl, when Ann McClure sees that she's wet the bed 12 weeks after the protest, an 11 year old girl doing that is upsetting and there's a clear sense of the immediate effect on her there. Karen – the Protestant girl, gives her mum a hug, but that hug is very ambiguous – does she forgive her mother? I think certainly that her relationship with her mother has changed irreversibly, and we wanted to show that.

There's damage in each family. There's the damage that people do to themselves in a conflict situation, as much as they do to each other – that was something we wanted to show. We were pretty clear that we wanted for example the McClure's marriage to break up. You go to the Ardoyne for example and ask “Was it stressful? – Were there problems? – Did you argue on whether to go up the road?” and the answer you get is “No, not at all” – I'm being ironic, but people quite obviously don't want to talk openly about it. They close ranks.

Usually, with situations like this in the North, there are always politicians, often with close links to Paramilitaries floating either at the center of events, or certainly at the periphery. With the exception of an ex, with the stress on the ex, IRA man – you chose not to show those sort of community leaders. Why?

That was a concious decision. We wanted ordinary families. It's very hard to get people to go out for 12-15 weeks to protest every day. Clearly there has to be fuel out there. I don't believe that the people there from Glenbryn were being simply orchestrated day in day out. I know that the UDA were heavily involved and certainly there was the suggestion that the blast bomb and the hoax bomb at the school gates were from them. The problem, even using the word paramilitary, is that you don't think about the person any more. You think about armour, politics and violence. So that was what was behind our choice.

But why the ex-IRA man?

Well there are clearly a number of people on the Catholic side who have signed up to the Good Friday agreement, and it's been a tough decision. People with Sinn Fein, people involved with the provisionals – and it's been a hard journey for them, and we wanted to at least show that. As he says in the film ”I thought this was all over”. He feels clearly that he's being dragged back into it. He's not allowed to forget his past by people on the other side, and in turn that's why what Tony (his son develops Paramilitary links) does upsets him so much.

Without harping on again about reaction, you mentioned at the festival in response to a question, that the offer to show the film was accepted only by the Protestant community. Why did the Catholic parents refuse the offer?

Well, I have to say that the response from the Holy Cross parents was not acrimonious.We said, would you choose 40 parents to show it to, and they said no, we want to show it to everyone. The BBC, I think, felt that they didn't want to get into the necessity of showing it to 400 people, hiring out a theatre and potentially creating a huge disturbance. So those terms weren't acceptable to the community. On the Glenbryn side it was really only a handful of people who saw it. I was in a room with six or eight people, and there was a very curious silence at the end, because certainly the perspective of that community, they've felt that, just as in the past the media was biased against the Catholic community in terms of their portrayal and their needs, and they felt they'd been victimised. Since the Good Friday agreement, the Protestant community has felt that they don't have a voice, that no-one takes what they have to say seriously. Certainly in the news reporting of that event they felt pretty much
the devil. And in that curious silence at the end, I wouldn't go so far as to say they were pleased, but they had immagined that they would have a huge number of points to criticise us on, but that didn't really come forward – people didn't say much at all.

At the end the situation seemed to just dissolve

Well, it was taken over completly by 9/11

In terms of the media, but in terms of the actual events portrayed in the film – at the end of the film we see the families walking to school with no protests and no protection. What's the current situation?

There's still definite tension, with threats made periodically against the school. Although it's defused somewhat, it hasn't gone away. That wall has been built, and there are cc tv cameras etc.

The wall in the film is something requested by the Protestant community – was it the case? Surely, sadly, the wall is something that both communities wished for?

Well, I think it was partially mutual, but then it became something specific from the Glenbryn community who felt themselves under siege. There's this large Protestant community, and then this finger that stretches into the Catholic Ardoyne if you look at the map. So yeah (reflecively) – well I think walls are just so sad.

With this siege mentality – one could easily argue that the Protestant community has felt under siege for 400 years, including when it held all the apparatus of State, and that it's an inbuilt part of the culture. As a result, often it's a dangerous myth. By portraying the Glenbryn community in that manner is it not adding fuel to the fire?

I think we have to be true to their perspective of the events. A fictional film is never a history lesson althouth it has to be rooted in reality. Perception is reality for people, that's not to condone it, but it is to say that it's there. Why don't kids go to school together in Northern Ireland, why don't they play together.

Well, sadly, churches on both sides, and their congregations, don't seem to want that.It's interesting as well, that while so much of the conflict and events are labelled in terms of religion, you don't have any religious figures in your film?

Well, I think the religious aspect is more tribal at the end – I don't think it has much to do with religion or faith. I think in some senses, outside of Europe, it will strike people as really weird watching the film – why are these people, nominally both Christians, doing these things to each other. It becomes its own thing really. I mean when you see the wall being built in Israel at the moment

Do you see parallels?

Yeh, I definitely do. I think what's happening there is terribly upsetting. As a Jew, I find it deeply deeply troubling, I can't even read about it anymore it's so upsetting.

Within the film, and possibly in the communities, for right or wrong reasons there is the need for the wall – is it the same in Israel?

The thing is that a wall is supposed to make people safe, and I suppose that's why people want it, but it's such a short term strategy – and if building the wall allows you to demonise the person on the other side – and in my experience that demonisation happens on both sides in both commuities – then it's just pointless. The last image in the film is exactly – why can't these two girls play together. Walls appear strong and solid, but they're pernicious, and need to be constantly heightened.

BBC NI Drama – Holy Cross

Slugger O’Toole – Popular blog on events in Northern Ireland

Presbyterian Church in Ireland – response to the film Holy Cross

BBC Eyewitness page for Holy Cross

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