Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland audience laughed at my film about a punishment shooting, says director

By Leona O'Neill

A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot director Sinead O'Shea says that one of the most surprising reactions to the screening of her film in Northern Ireland was laughter.

The documentary takes a stark look at the brutal, self-policing practices that regularly occur in Londonderry's Creggan estate.

The film begins and ends with Majella O'Donnell, a Creggan mother-of-two, who brings her son Philly to an appointment to be shot by paramilitaries for drug dealing. It is explained that the habitual drug user Philly might have suffered more severe punishment if she hadn't made the arrangement.

The film shines a spotlight on the notion that the Good Friday Agreement signalled a complete end to the 30-year conflict.

As Sinead showed her film around the world, she said she was shocked by some of the reactions to the grim depiction of modern Northern Irish life.

"I had travelled around the world working with Al Jazeera English, BBC and other channels and I thought this was the most interesting story I'd ever encountered," she said. "The story was shocking but the people were extraordinary. They were all uniquely compelling.

"The film has done very well and it's been nominated for some very big awards all over the world. It had its international premiere at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen where it was nominated for a FACT Award which is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world.

"It was also nominated as best international documentary in the Asian Film Festival and in Belfast. It's sold out everywhere that it has been played and Joshua Oppenheimer, who is Oscar-nominated, is the executive producer so people really believe in it and like it.

"Having said that when it's screened in Ireland and Northern Ireland, people laugh a lot during the film.

"They don't laugh as much in the screenings abroad. I don't think they always get the humour."

Shot over a period of five years, Sinead delved deep into the tensions that still simmer in the community. The mum-of-one said she was shocked by some of what she saw.

"I think I was most shocked because a lot of it seemed avoidable," she said. "I was shocked by the fact that a lot of people seemed to be moving on with their lives but other people seemed to be really suffering. It didn't seem as if the effects of post traumatic stress disorder or high unemployment were being taken into account."

And she said, as a mother herself, she was less shocked by a mother taking her son to be shot than by life making a mockery of best laid plans.

"When I began making the film I was on my own with a small baby as a single mum and it wasn't a situation that I had planned for myself, and so I think if anything that made me realise that life can make a mockery of your plans," she said. "Majella never aspired to bring Philly to be shot. I can see exactly why she made that decision. Under those circumstances, she had no choice."

She added: "I think it's important to tell this story because it shows that ending a war is very complicated and that's something that happens all over the world. I also think it's important given what's happening in the UK regarding Brexit and Northern Ireland. The UK constantly refuses to take responsibility for Northern Ireland."

Sinead says she is working on another film about post-conflict and her first feature drama.

Belfast Telegraph

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