Pipe drama

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

WOULD YOU re­ally want to watch a film that – set­ting one talk­ing head against a dozen more – at­tempts a mea­sured, com­pre­hen­sive ex­pla­na­tion of the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Shell’s ef­forts to lay that trou­ble­some gas pipe­line through Broad­haven Bay in Co Mayo? Prob­a­bly not. The prospect sounds just a lit­tle dry.

Hap­pily, this is not that film. Al­ready ac­claimed at half a dozen fes­ti­vals, Ris­teard Ó Domh­naill’s film is an unashamedly per­sonal – not to men­tion aligned – at­tempt to con­vey the char­ac­ter of the trou­bled com­mu­nity in Kil­com­mon Parish.

A news cam­era­man (with a de­gree in the­o­ret­i­cal physics), Ó Domh­naill be­gan shoot­ing the cit­i­zens as part of his day job. Then he started fol­low­ing them home and, af­ter a year or two, found that, al­most by ac­ci­dent, he had the mak­ings of a grip­ping doc­u­men­tary.

The Pipe be­gins fol­low­ing the re­lease of the Ross­port Five, con­victed of ob­struct­ing ac­tiv­i­ties at Shell’s fa­cil­ity, from 94 days in cus­tody. He eaves­drops on com­mit­tees, fol­lows rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Europe, and ob­serves stomp­ing pha­lanxes of gar­daí.

It is al­ways clear where the film-maker’s sym­pa­thies lie, but his doc­u­men­tary does not paint an en­tirely pos­i­tive pic­ture of the pro­tes­tors’ ac­tiv­i­ties. The footage of one ab­surdly and un­nec­es­sar­ily frac­tious com­mit­tee meet­ing, dur­ing which Maura Harrington, the most in­tem­per­ate of Ó Domh­naill’s sub­jects, uses ex­tremely colour­ful lan­guage, will only con­firm es­tab­lish­ment sus­pi­cions that the pro­tes­tors have some­thing of the rab­ble about them.

That se­quence is, how­ever, the ex­cep­tion. For the most part, The Pipe, pre­sented with­out voiceover, qui­etly ar­gues for the sin­cer­ity and courage of the re­sis­tance cam­paign. Watch in as­ton­ish­ment as Pat “the Chief” O’Don­nell, a de­ter­mined fish­er­man, puts his boat in the way of Shell’s mas­sive, sin­is­ter (and very cin­e­matic) pipe-lay­ing ves­sel. En­joy the agree­able com­pany of Wil­lie Cor­duff, one of the Ross­port Five.

Does the lack of bal­ance mat­ter? At times. When cit­i­zens claim that Shell’s scheme will de­stroy the fish­ing or that such a pipe can­not be laid safely across bog­land, view­ers want to know if they are be­ing told the truth. (We’re only ask­ing.) A fine slice of ver­ité, nonethe­less.

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