I’m late turning up for the interview, thanks to the summer time clock change, but director Mark Brozel is unfazed and welcoming. He’s quietly spoken and pensive throughout the interview, often pausing to reflect on the answers, to give them due weight. His film Holy Cross received an enthusiastic reception at the fourth international Human Rights Nights film festival in Bologna the night before, where the director fielded questions from an audience keen to differentiate between fact and fiction. A dilemma for the film maker in this genre, but one that Brozel has put time and energy into exploring.
How did the film come about?
Well I made a drama for BBC2 Television a couple of years ago, about the dissapeared in Northern Ireland, a story written by a West Belfast writer called Pearse Elliot called A rap at the door, and I don't think there'd been anything on television, certainly not nationally, or in the whole of Britain, about the disappeared. This was the story of two brothers and sisters, inspired by a number of factual families and stories, but it was a fictional story involving two brothers and sisters whose mother had disappeared, or rather ‘had been disappeared’, by paramilitaries a number of years before and it was the upshot for each of the siblings of that event. So I had a strong relationship with the head of BBC Northern Ireland Drama through that – a guy called Robert Cooper, whose got an excellent track record in initiating fictions on Ireland. Robert and I were actually developing a story about Asylum seekers, and unfortunately someone had beaten us to it – this was a couple of years ago for the BBC, and so a year's development went down the pan, which often happens, and is frustrating. But on the back of that, interestingly enough, the woman who runs BBC One had rung up Robert and said “Look – this Holy Cross thing, do you think there's a drama in it?” Which is pretty unusual – normally it's the other way around, people pitching up the ladder.
Then we got a writer involved, it's fair to say there was one writer at the start, and that didn't work out. And then Robert's Head of Development found Terry (Terry Cafolla) who is a Belfast based writer whose background is from a Catholic family, he'd written a couple of stage plays, and a couple of things for ITV which have yet to come out, so this was Terry's first major piece, and there was a lot of research we all put in within the communities – just trying to find out what had happened. Not what had happened I suppose, the news had put out the stories about what had happened, but really to get the background, the how, the context, so there was a lot of work put in together on the script – and I think Terry did a fantastic script.
Isn't it a problem, as seen with other films, if you do a film about Northern Ireland – the first question that's going to be asked is “Who are you? What side are you on?”
I think there was a lot of suspicion from both sides of the divide on that street. You'll know yourself that the BBC is perceived by many to be the bastion of the British establishment, and always has been – although I think that actually the BBC has a pretty good track record at least in the area of drama/fiction of telling complex stories about the Troubles. What was difficult was getting… I remember meeting families in the Glenbryn community, and seeing some cc t.v taken from along the interface, and actually the footage I most strongly remember is one filmed by a woman who subsequently had moved out. She lived right on the front line, so to speak, and in broad daylight this footage was shaking, and I couldn't work out why it was shaking – and then I realised, she was so scared because there was just this mob of lads. People that you'd normally just laugh and say “Go home!” – they looked like kids. They are kids, not just look like kids. I remember saying “They're just kids why can't you just say”, and this guy responded “well they may look just like kids to you, but kids can do a lot of damage with rocks” …anyway, I suppose what I'm trying to say is that in any conflict like that, people become partisan very quickly, and try to defend what happened, very quickly, and from the media's point of view – how it was reported, how could anyone begin to… It's a clear, black and white story, isn't it? Adults who were throwing stones, spitting, throwing balloons filled with piss at five year old/six year old girls going to school – could you have a clearer case of right and wrong? But we wanted to, not from perverseness, but from an attempt to try to understand, we wanted to get behind that, to find out what drove people to do that – which is a difficult thing to do. And which I hope we got someway to achieving.