Donal Foreman: “Now people are fighting over flags much more than about class or inequality”
Donal Foreman is an Irish filmmaker living somewhere between Dublin and New York City. His latest project is the feature-length documentary ‘The Image You Missed’ just won the Best Film Prize at La Muestra de Cine de Lanzarote.
After almost fifty years of the conflict in Northern Ireland, ¿how do you think your documentary tackles the issue?
My film tackles the conflict through my father’s archive of Northern Ireland and the personal history of our “non-relationship”. It uses our differences – as filmmakers and politically engaged individuals – to tease out larger questions about the relationship between our generations, between the North and South of Ireland, between cinema and social movements, and between the personal and political.
The filming Arthur MacCaig did, ¿would you consider it a testament of history?
Sure, like all documentaries – and indeed, many fiction films – it is a historical testament of sorts. Which isn’t to say it is objective or always reliable… For me, I think it might be more productive to call his work an intervention. I think he saw his role as more of an activist than as a journalist: as he put it, he wanted to make films “with an objective” rather than “objective films”.
¿How has the conflict evolve to our days?
How long have you got? Obviously the situation is much less violent since the peace agreement of the late 1990s. Many of the civil rights issues which fueled the conflict have been resolved, or at least considerably improved. But the colonial border is still very much in place, albeit a soft border (for now, depending on Brexit), Northern Ireland is still governed by Britain and there are still deep-set divisions between communities in the North; in some ways these divisions are as entrenched as ever. Unfortunately, it seems to me that now people fighting over questions of identity, flags and parades much more than they are fighting about class, inequality or the effects of neoliberal capitalism.
The other conflict shown is family, sometimes a case of war. ‘The image you missed’ navigates in between them. Your father and uncle are also documentary creators (I’ve read), in your case it seems the tendency to do works like that was in your family DNA.
You could certainly argue that my passion for cinema is inherited, although of course there’s no way to prove it! And, like with many of the connections I make in the film, for me the most essential point is not whether it’s true, but whether it’s useful to think of it this way…
How was your experience in Lanzarote?
Looking out my window at the cold and the rain in Brooklyn, I’m starting to wonder if my time in Lanzarote was just a dream! Either way, what a dream it was – a beautiful festival in a beautiful place that managed to mix daring and challenging programming with a real effort to engage local communities and connect visiting filmmakers and critics with the people, history and landscape of the island. It was a privilege to be involved.