In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America

John Hume was instrumental in utilising the American Irish diaspora to provide political influence to drive the peace process in Northern Ireland. You may remember him from news reports your dad put on when you wanted to watch Home And Away.

This is not so much of a documentary as a eulogy. More time is dedicated to extolling how amiable and likeable John is than actually quantifying what his actions were and what their impact was.

It was a rather curious pick for the festival because, on the one hand, it had such a huge array of key figures from Irish, British and American politics, on the other hand it had some of the worst actual filmmaking I’ve seen. Seriously, I would have guessed this as a final year or master’s student’s end of term project, rather than an internationally funded professional film. It is surprisingly redundant visually. This could easily have been made for radio and then stock footage added to show in a cinema. Everything is either a talking head in a chair, Evocative Image of the Sea #1, or time-lapse landscapes. What little historical footage is used is ridiculously brief and short on context.

When information is provided, it is provided in a frustratingly corkscrew fashion. At one point a quotation appeared on screen, over a background of two letters of dense text in a similar font going in opposing slanting directions, then the paragraph started to slide up the screen, before, after a pause, a static line of text appeared at the bottom of the screen explaining who the quotation was from and where it had been published. And I just thought, “Are you fucking kidding me?! Is that seriously the easiest way you could have presented that information? Not even had it read out by the narrator who is LIAM FUCKING NEESON?! No, no, I mean why pay for Liam Neeson and then make him read out piddling paragraphs of text scrolling lazily up a screen of overlapping text?! Fuck!”

So yeah, that annoyed me. What also annoyed me was this was possibly the best gathering of key figures in ending the Troubles and yet this documentary failed to give any idea of when the Troubles started, ended, why it was prolonged or what contributed to its end. While the documentary seems to list slavveringly all the famous people John Hume met, the actual tracing of the conflict all this was in reference to was glaringly absent.

Perhaps the documentary presumed a level of knowledge on the part of the viewer that I was lacking, but isn’t that the point of a documentary? To educate? And CONTEXT. Necessary to establish no matter how informed your viewer. At one point they mention the reaction to the death of Bobby Sands without having ever mentioned Bobby Sands before or who he was. Come on!

So you come away feeling distinctly uninformed despite this procession of talking heads. Everyone from Bill Clinton to Jimmy Carter to Gerry Adams to Tony Blair to Bono. Ugh, Bono. Can anything happen about Ireland without that guy sticking his oar in? Yes, let’s all hear Bono’s analysis.

And, and, AND, the *cringeworthy* comparisons of John Hume to Martin Luther King. Aye, only if you completely whitewash and neuter Dr. King’s actual legacy do you then get to compare him to a guy you are also holding somehow above and separate from the very violent contexts in which they both existed. For the record, Martin Luther King is not the loveable teddy bear mascot of black people who calmly steered both hang-dog whites and polite blacks to agreeing to do better before shaking hands and calling it a draw. He’s not just a word that can bubble up out of your mouth whenever you need to invoke a warm feeling in the room.

AND how can you make a full-length documentary about the peace process and not mention the actual violence? Outside of Bloody Sunday, there is almost no mention of the actual violence of the Troubles. No mention of the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher. No mention of the Omagh bombing. No actual context to what might have been causing resistance to concessions to Republicans as the conflict wore on.

And this elevation of non-violence as though it always glides elegantly into peace if only others would listen. No one would have given John Hume a seat at the table or had any reason to listen to him were it not for the spectre of a very non-non-violent resolution otherwise. All those conflicts where oppression met with nothing but non-violence tend to get called massacres. You may not agree with violent resistance in general or the violence in Northern Ireland especially, but for fuck’s sake, it is crucial and vital to the context of any history of The Troubles. How can you not mention it?!

In conclusion, Whit?