Breaking hearts, winning minds

Five directors have been nominated for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties film award. Here they discuss their work


On Thursday, the fifth annual Irish Council for Civil Liberties Human Rights Film Awards will take place. The entries range from a film set in Benghazi but filmed in Ireland, to a look at how women survive in war-torn Congo, and a poignant look at how one lesbian couple and their gay friend raise their son.

Here, the five shortlisted directors discuss their nominated work, motivations, and what they hope their films will achieve.

Martin Smith
Director of Jimmy
Jimmy shows a day in the life of Jimmy McIntosh MBE, who has been campaigning for disabled rights since 1972. We see the world from his point of view, as a wheelchair user living with cerebral palsy through a Scottish winter.

I first came across Jimmy as he was running a group in my community centre supporting vulnerable adults. When he told me a little bit about his work and life, I was captivated. He had won the vote for the institutionalised disabled. I couldn’t believe that someone in my own community, who had done so much for others, wasn’t universally known.

Often I find subjects that scare me or I don’t understand are a challenge I want to embrace. My understanding of disability and my experience of elderly people were minimal, so finding out about that through the filmmaking process, confronting my own fears, was really rewarding.

The most satisfying thing, though, was the relationship I developed with Jimmy and his partner Elizabeth. Filmmaking is an emotional exchange, and I felt a huge responsibility to represent them in a faithful way. If they had hated the film, it would have killed me.

I can’t say this film is impartial. By the end of the filming I was Jimmy’s biggest fan. The film is experiential. I was keen to give an insight in some way into Jimmy’s life, but it’s only a fraction – a single day. I hope I’ve found some kind of understanding of a remarkable man.

Paco Torres
Director of The Rattle of Benghazi
The sound of a rattle is intense, distinctive and relentless. In Benghazi, a boy and a girl play with a rattle to silence the noise of the bombing. They play at being themselves. Their smiles become silent tears full of hope.

From an artistic point of view, the film is a story that has to be told. I always write when something affects me emotionally, and during the Arab Spring , it was very hard to think about children losing their lives. From a father’s point of view, I also wanted to communicate to audiences worldwide that the innocence of children always counts.

From the very beginning, shooting a film in Arabic, based in the Libyan war but shot in Ireland, was a challenge no one wanted to tackle. I sent the script to some producers and their answers were negative, so I convinced a friend of mine, the photographer Vic Campos, to give me the money. Chriona O’Sullivan and Element Digital Post Production got on board, with Ardmore Sound doing all the sound mixes, and a crew of 15 different nationalities got involved in the project because they believed in the story and in my work.

There was a tremendous effort to show the original accent from Benghazi with a cast from the region. I contacted the Libyan community in Ireland and Faheem Bukhatwa [a lecturer at Griffith College Dublin] helped me a lot during this journey.

Using landscapes in Ireland as the Libyan city of Benghazi was a tough challenge but thanks to people in the Clontarf area, Dollymount beach and St Anne’s Park, and the generosity of Dublin City Council, it was a successful adventure.

A message in a film is different to each person and, so far and after 55 official festival selections and several awards, I think the audience has got a clear emotional response and understanding of what happens in the daily life of children in any war. Breaking an audience’s heart is an easy way to make them think about these types of issues.

Dearbhla Glynn
Director The Value of Women in the Congo
War has torn eastern Congo apart for nearly two decades. It is the deadliest conflict since the second World War. One of the more sinister repercussions is violence against women has reached epic proportions. In an effort to look at the root cause, The Value of Women in the Congo explores the experience of the victims of this violence as well as the perspective of the perpetrators, warlords and high-ranking commandants.

What emerges is an arresting and brutal account of how war ravages the land and its people and leaves few victors.

I was researching a Masters in development, which involved working on the ongoing Congo conflict and, in particular, the huge issue of rape. The existing research focused on the survivors of rape and I wanted to hear from the men, the perpetrators, to understand what was happening.

For the last four years I have been focused on filming in conflict zones. I am committed to human rights, in particular the rights of women and children, who are often the ones who suffer the most in the context of war.

Congo is a very complicated place to film and to work , as it is an active war zone. And then there is the level of corruption. In one situation, I spent time filming with a rape survivor. Because a white woman had been to see her, the local government assumed I had given her money, and came to her house.

I’ve just returned from a second filming trip to eastern Congo; it is disturbing the level of rape that continues to happen every day. I spent much of my time in a town called Minova. When I returned there this time, the orphanage and safe house for women had been looted and many of these women were raped again. As I left, fighting had broken out between M23 and the FARDC; I left with that horrible feeling of fear for the safety of people I know.

Trish McAdam
Director of No Enemies
No Enemies is a four-minute animation based on a statement prepared by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo for his court appearance in 2009, where he was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment for involvement with the Charter 08 manifesto, which he co-authored. As part of that manifesto, Liu called for an end to one-party politics in China. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest for nearly three years.

Liu’s statement is profound and beyond politics; it is written from the heart, and reminds me of the best side of human nature, love and intelligence. Here is a man challenging adversity with truth and hope.

When I was a child one of my favourite stories was The Emperor’s New Clothes. Even where there is freedom of speech, we have a tendency to self-censorship, for fear of ridicule or adverse judgment. Imagine what it is like to face imprisonment for speaking the truth. It is not only in China that truth and individuals are sacrificed for the so-called “greater good of society”.

Front Line Defenders has led human rights-driven, art-related initiatives around the world. In 2011, they saw a short 30-second animation I made encouraging people to sign a petition for the release of artist Ai Weiwei, and they asked me to create an animation about blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who was under house arrest. This led, in 2012, to our collaboration on No Enemies.

This is not an objective film. I whole-heartedly embrace the Liu Xiaobo statement and do not believe that anything he did or said justifies sending him to prison.

Dara deFaoite
Director of Mums & Dad
Mums & Dad tells the story of a lesbian couple who have a son with a gay man they meet after placing an ad “desperately seeking sperm” in Gay Community News. The film is a gentle and poignant family portrait that demonstrates how nothing can prepare you for what the future might hold.

I was very interested in making a film focusing on the human stories and the day-to-day roles and relationships of parents in an LGBT family unit. I knew the female couple involved and I felt their story would resonate strongly with a huge amount of people living in Ireland today.

Every individual, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation, has the right to make responsible family decisions. The parents in Mums & Dad made their respective and long-considered decisions to have a child more than seven-years ago in the face of active discrimination by the State against non-typical family units.

I made Mums & Dad on a zero budget so it was a huge financial challenge. I’m greatly indebted to camerawoman Saskia Vermeulen and editor Gareth Nolan for their time and advice throughout. I think the most difficult part, however, was showing the finished film to the parties involved; it’s always a nerve-wracking experience, but thankfully it went down well with everyone.

My hopes for Mums & Dad is it will generate valuable discussion, create public awareness and lead to greater recognition of the rights and visibility of LGBT parents in Ireland. I’ve also had a very positive reaction to the film from people who found that the ancillary issues of IVF, fertility and surrogacy resonated with them.

The winner will be announced at the Light House Cinema, Smithfield, Dublin on Thursday.

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