OPINION: Sean Murray responds to a recent article criticising his ‘Glenanne Gang’ film
You can read Jamie Bryson’s analysis of this piece HERE
By Sean Murray
IN RESPONSE to your recent article ‘Glenanne Gang film is another piece of politically motivated republican propaganda’, I feel compelled to challenge a number of contentions that have been made within.
This, along with other ad hominem attacks in recent weeks, has unnecessarily clouded the challenging debate around the role of filmmakers in bearing witness to the stories of victims of state violence. There is now general acknowledgment that adequate government support was seldom put in place to tackle issues of conflict-related trauma across a broad spectrum of victims andsurvivors. In the absence of such support, the work of filmmakers has increasingly sought to address this phenomenon by highlighting issues concerning transitional justice; a task complicated by contested interpretations of what defines justice.
For Unionism, emphasis on the application of law, order and security tends to take precedence in these debates, while nationalists invariably stress the requirement of parity and social justice. Such agreements are further complicated by the role of the media, which for over thirty years has been far from an impartial arbitrator between the political ideologies of both traditions, habitually presenting a legacy of dominant narratives shaped by state censorship and control, both north and south.
The recent assertions that documentaries, such as mine, are an attempt to re-write the past are effortlessly debunked when presented with evidence to the contrary. When one makes the allegation that emerging stories that contest the hegemonic view of the conflict are ‘re-writing’ the past, one must only conclude that this position stems from a point of privilege that there is only one interpretation of our recent history. As an observer, I feel this runs to the core of recent Unionist anger around the current legacy debate.
Let’s take, for example, the recent statements at the Con Club debate (5th of September 2018) that there have been no films made about La Mon, Enniskillen and the Shankill Bombing. If we are to research the Cain Website for conflict-related documentaries there can be scores of representations around such atrocities at the click of a button, and rightly so. When researching further, the ‘Peter Heathwood Collection of Television Programmes’ we again see vast disproportional consideration given to maintaining the Unionist narrative.
From 1981 to 2005, where records have yet to be updated, documentaries and current affairs programmes upholding Unionist discourse around the conflict numbered at 674, while representations that could be considered to challenge these narratives (plastic bullets, shoot-to-kill, Bloody Sunday etc.) numbered at around 22.
Another allegation at the Con club was to state that a major theme within Unquiet Graves was to create the impression that the film promoted the activities of the IRA, while vilifying the actions of both the UDR and RUC. However, the activities of the IRA are highlighted only once within the film in indicting their members as being responsible for the Kingsmills Massacre. Misleading accusations, such as these, are clear efforts to spread disinformation about the film, and only lead to further undermine the Unionist case against my work.
Further to this, a Tweet by Mr Bryson (7th of September) that the ‘Glenanne film is based on stolen documents from the HET’ only serves to reinforce a serious disregard for the genuine capacity to engage with established criticisms around the documentary. If these allegations hold weight, they must be brought to the attention of the PSNI immediately. However, I won’t hold my breath.
The film does, however, offer an international audience context to the activities of the UDR and RUC. In doing so, it induces a sense of political and historical consciousness that disrupts established discourse around the conflict. Both organisations, whilst held in high esteem within sections of Unionism, are synonymous with repression and state murder within the broad nationalist community. These competing interpretations are a microcosm for the wider conflict. While we disagree on these fundamental distinctions, we must respect each other’s right to those versions and beliefs, however uncomfortable this may be. The issue of victims must not be sectarianized and any discussions must be victim-centred.
For me, the ultimate arbiter of truth flows from personal testimony and the stories from victims must not be constrained or decried as invalid by the selfish interests of demagogues.
While we reflect on the killings at La Mon, Ballymurphy, Enniskillen or McGurks Bar, we must recognise the hurt our communities have inflicted on each other. My job as an activist filmmaker is to disturb, challenge, provoke, inspire and disrupt the status quo; but with that comes responsibility to progress the process of conflict transformation.
Future generations will assess history as they see fit; while none of us will hold the privilege of hindsight. The art of storytelling will stand above the political maelstrom and we all have our part to play in creating that mosaic of narratives together.
Sean Murray is an award winning filmmaker from Belfast. His recent film ‘Fractured City’ won a Royal Television Society Award at the BFI in London’s South Bank. He has edited a number of testiomony based documentaries dealing with legacy issues pertaining to the recent conflict and his work has been screened at international film festivals. He is PHD candidate at QUB.