Lo­cal he­roes: Ir­ish movies at the fes­ti­val

Es­ther McCarthy speaks to film di­rec­tor and pro­ducer Mau­rice Fitz­patrick about his doc­u­men­tary on North­ern Ire­land peace cam­paigner John Hume

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

RIS­ING from the riot-dev­as­tated streets of North­ern Ire­land to nav­i­gate and ne­go­ti­ate peace in the North, John Hume has long been a beloved pub­lic fig­ure. He was voted Ire­land’s Great­est in a pub­lic poll car­ried out by RTÉ in 2010.

Now a new doc­u­men­tary about Hume ex­am­ines how his en­gage­ment with the US was a ma­jor cat­a­lyst in the jour­ney to se­cur­ing peace in North­ern Ire­land. It will screen at this year’s Cork Film Fes­ti­val.

Fea­tur­ing con­tri­bu­tions from Bill Clin­ton, John Ma­jor and Tony Blair, In the Name of Peace: John

Hume in Amer­ica de­picts the ex­tra­or­di­nary work car­ried out by Hume to gal­vanise and lever­age US sup­port.

For di­rec­tor and pro­ducer Mau­rice Fitz­patrick, con­vers­ing with the US proved to be a valu­able key to pos­i­tive change.

“I picked the an­gle of the United States for a cou­ple of rea­sons,” Fitz­patrick says. “One, it hasn’t re­ally been told be­fore, that story. It’s been largely over­looked. And se­condly my be­lief that — and I make this clear in the book I’ve just writ­ten as well — my fun­da­men­tal be­lief is that by bring­ing in the United States, Hume had sud­denly re­con­fig­ured the power bal­ance be­tween Bri­tain and Ire­land. And at telling mo­ments, when he could bring that power to bear, he could bring the Bri­tish to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. And that was a very new re­al­ity — Tony Blair makes that ad­mis­sion — it was a very new thing for Bri­tish politi­cians to have to con­front.

“A very ed­u­cated and or­gan­ised Ir­ish lobby in the United States Congress, was in turn mak­ing it clear to the White House, through a suc­ces­sion of pres­i­dents from Carter through to Rea­gan and Clin­ton, that this was a pri­or­ity for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

“I wanted to get his story right in such a way that peo­ple could ac­cess it, maybe peo­ple who didn’t know so much are still able to watch the film and learn a lot about the whole span of the his­tory of The Trou­bles.”

As well as very em­i­nent con­trib­u­tors who were in­volved in the peace process, the film fea­tures ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­chive footage of Hume an­i­mat­edly cam­paign­ing for peace on the streets as part of the civil rights move­ment. In­deed, Clin­ton de­scribes Hume as a Mar­tin Luther King-type fig­ure early in the film.

“I think that is the essence of what Pres­i­dent Clin­ton is de­scrib­ing there, that Mar­tin Luther King did marry the roles of teacher, of leader of peo­ple on the streets, but also had the po­lit­i­cal acu­men to per­form at the high­est lev­els. He had a great com­bi­na­tion of all of those things, and so did John Hume,” says Fitz­patrick.

“I was de­ter­mined to il­lus­trate for peo­ple when Bill Clin­ton speaks of John Hume and the (Mar­tin Luther) King of the Ir­ish con­flict in the film, to show ex­actly how that was and why that was. He was rightly known as a par­lia­men­tary politi­cian,” says Fitz­patrick.

“But the ac­tiv­ity he con­ducted and led, on the streets of Derry, and in­deed other parts of the North, all of that was part of his whole ap­proach to a new pol­i­tics. And I thought it was very im­port- to get ar­chive ma­te­ri­als that re­flected that. But also that re­flected his pas­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion to forge a new so­ci­ety in the North.

“I spent a lot of time sift­ing through ar­chives. There are a lot of clear link­ages of what was hap­pen­ing in the North, a chain of cause and ef­fect and how the North was be­com­ing ex­tremely dan­ger­ous from the point of view of some­one who would lead a cam­paign of civil dis­obe­di­ence.”

The ar­chive footage brings home the sense of ur­gency of the time, but also re­minds us that those in­volved had no idea how cir­cum­stances would im­pact on them or their com­mu­ni­ties. Hume was fear­ful of the march that would be­come Bloody Sun­day, for ex­am­ple.

“He didn’t know with cer­tainty what the out­come would be but he had the in­stinct to pull back from the march that be­come the Bloody Sun­day march. He made it clear that he wasn’t go­ing to march, he wasn’t go­ing to lead, and his in­stincts emerge in the film a num­ber of times. Bill Clin­ton talks of how he trusted Hume’s in­stincts. He had that in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity, cer­tainly, to an­a­lyse the si­t­u­a­tion, an­a­lyse the his­tory of North­ern Ire­land, but also, his in­stincts were very sound as well,” says the film­maker.

“I think on the is­sue of Bloody Sun­day, his in­stinct that it was very dan­ger­ous for peo­ple was of course vin­di­cated, trag­i­cally.”

Fitz­patrick says that a wide­spread re­spect for and ad­mi­ra­tion of Hume and his legacy was helpful in terms of get­ting the sup­port of pro­lific con­trib­u­tors and ac­ces­sant ing re­search and footage. Liam Nee­son got on board, lend­ing his voice to the project in voice-over scenes.

“I didn’t know Liam Nee­son be­fore mak­ing this doc­u­men­tary. His voice and his whole iden­tity I think is so clearly ap­pro­pri­ate to this film. When he agreed to do so I was de­lighted. He was a won­der­ful man, very pro­fes­sional, very very good at voice-overs. He was the ul­ti­mate pro and took it very se­ri­ously.”

He is glad that his­tory has been jus­ti­fi­ably kind to Hume and that his ef­forts and achieve­ments have been so widely recog­nised and cel­e­brated.

“Peo­ple who may have been scep­ti­cal, may have been an­tag­o­nis­tic of John Hume back in the day, are to­day much more apt to ac­knowl­edge the role he played much more. The kind of ap­proach he had to pol­i­tics later be­came the ap­proach of many oth­ers.”

In the case of Bill Clin­ton, Fitz­patrick feels, the for­mer US pres­i­dent al­ways ad­mired Hume and his ef­forts to en­act pos­i­tive change. “I don’t think there was ever a mo­ment where he was scep­ti­cal. I think he saw in John Hume a re­ally pro­fes­sional politi­cian, a re­ally re­li­able touch­stone and the fact that he had that judge­ment of Hume, and he be­came a chan­nel of in­flu­ence dur­ing what be­came the Good Fri­day Agree­ment. That chan­nel of in­flu­ence be­came im­por­tant.”

In the Name of Peace: John Hume

in Amer­ica will screen at Cork Film Fes­ti­val on Novem­ber 12. The book of the same name is now in book­shops.

John Hume speaks to a Bri­tish sol­dier at a Mag­ili­gan anti-in­tern­ment rally in Derry; left, Mr Hume in con­ver­sa­tion with for­mer US Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

John Hume cam­paigned for peace as part of the civil rights move­ment.

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