Living through the experience of our conflict

Callie Persic, Management Committee Skegoneill Glandore Common Purpose; Laurence McKeown; Kevin Mulgrew, Coordinator of Fáilte Abhaile, the support group for former republican prisoners and displaced persons in Co Louth; Seán Montgomery, Project Worker with Skegoneill Glandore Common Purpose. Callie and Seán featured in the documentary film along with Billy Hutchinson Callie Persic, Management Committee Skegoneill Glandore Common Purpose; Laurence McKeown; Kevin Mulgrew, Coordinator of Fáilte Abhaile, the support group for former republican prisoners and displaced persons in Co Louth; Seán Montgomery, Project Worker with Skegoneill Glandore Common Purpose. Callie and Seán featured in the documentary film along with Billy Hutchinson
By Staff Reporter

I n early 2012 Dr Laurence McKeown, author and playwright, and former  hunger striker, wrote and directed the documentary film Life as an Interface.

Based on the Skegoneill Glandore Common Purpose  project in North Belfast, the film premiered in June at the Belfast Film Festival, which Laurence co-founded as the West Belfast Film Festival back in 1995. On December 6 Life as an Interface had its international premiere when it opened the Irish Film Festa in Rome.

Susanna Pellis, Director of the Film Festa said: “By presenting the documentary Life as an Interface I wanted to show how Irish people are dealing with the legacy of the conflict and how they work together to build a new environment in the country.

“We had the unique opportunity to hear from Dr Laurence McKeown’s direct experience and to understand better what is the true reality behind abstract words like war, or peace. I strongly believe in art as a shared experience, and projects like these are among the best to confirm my view.”

Two days later Life as in Interface was screened in Dundalk as part of a two-day series of film screenings and discussions organised by Laurence under the theme, ‘From prisons to peace-building: the role of former political prisoners and the challenges and successes of dealing with the past’.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity for former political prisoners, both republican and loyalist, to tell how they and others are dealing with the legacy of the conflict,” he said. “The themes covered included: the restoration of the Long Kesh prison site and the anxieties that throws up for the Protestant/Unionist community living in the area; policing; dealing with the past; victims/survivors; reconciliation; the role of the media; and work on the interfaces.

“Films I wrote and directed included, Life as an Interface, When the Summit is Shrouded in Mist, and Day of Private Reflection. We also screened the excellent documentary written and directed by Barry Curran, Blanketmen. Speakers included Adie Bird, former loyalist (UDA) prisoner and chair of the local community group at the site of the former Long Kesh prison; Roger McCallum, a former RUC and PSNI officer; Pat Sheehan, Sinn Féin MLA  and former republican prisoner and hunger striker; Kate Turner, Director of Healing Through Remembering; Seán Montgomery, former republican prisoner and currently community and youth worker; Callie Persic who works in economic and spatial regeneration in West Belfast; Peter Heathwood, member of the NI Victims Forum; and Declan Keeney, documentary filmmaker and academic based in the School of Film Studies, Queen’s University Belfast.”

Laurence also plans to use the arts in his current role as Coordinator of the ‘Aftermath’ project which looks at the experiences of victims/survivors and those displaced by the conflict in County Louth and Newry/South Armagh.

“Once you remove the physical manifestations of conflict following peace negotiations there is often little left to show there ever was a conflict but for those who lived through that experience, or had to flee from it, the scars they carry are all too real and ever-present.

“Regardless of what side they took in the conflict, or none, they now must make sense out of what happened and where they go from here. Some can feel left behind by political developments, or the speed of those developments, and often all they need is a chance to tell their story.

“My aim is to assist that process through the use of various elements of the arts – film, photography, audio recordings, and possibly drama, to tell the human cost of the conflict in this area. The main output of the project will be an exhibition staged in public venues both North and South which in itself will provide an opportunity for further discussion on the issues raised.

“We held a very successful launch of the project recently with speakers including Alan Brecknell, whose father was killed in Silverbridge in a loyalist/British security forces attack; Alan McBride whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the IRA bomb on the Shankill Road; Margaret Urwin who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the victims and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; Dr Pauline Conroy who has written extensively on the experiences of those displaced by conflict; and Ali Dennehy, Director of Protection and Training with The Integration Centre, Dublin. I look forward in 2013 to working with these and many others to make the project as comprehensive and inclusive as possible.”

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