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.