Gordon Brennan views Turlough O’Kelly’s story of the €1bn regeneration of Ballymun.
The 4th Act tells the story of the €1bn regeneration of Ballymun, the well known high-rise working-class community on the northside of Dublin, through the eyes of the community itself by drawing on several hours of local and personally archived footage collated over the past thirty years. Directed by Turlough O’Kelly, the film explores themes of loss, community, hope and defiance as the residents of Ballymun watch their familiar landscape and way of living vanish over the course of two decades.
Being a lifelong northside resident, I was somewhat familiar with the subject matter. Having said that, I was unaware of the modus operandi of the government bodies involved. I was curious as to how the operation was carried out, where the funding came from, and what the social and economic situation was within the confines of the community at the time.
The intention of the documentary it feels, is to illuminate and expose the injustices of the Ballymun rehousing project as inflicted by a government backed organisation in Ballymun Regeneration Limited. Throughout the film the audience is repeatedly exposed to testimony from government appointed B.R.L. members and aggrieved Ballymun community leaders alike. These interviews are juxtaposed with images of abandoned tower blocks and the same buildings being abruptly demolished. The film’s score is made up of a series of spooky sounding, and often harrowing sections of ghoulish synthesizers, in what feels like an attempt to lend an evil or at least eerie atmosphere to the on-screen proceedings.
After watching The 4th Act, I felt better informed about the rehousing project but it would be unfair to say that it altered my opinion of the operation. This is mostly due to the fact that I could not help but shake the feeling of being presented information that was almost entirely biased towards the Ballymun residents.
Documentaries by definition are the creative treatment of actuality. In this case it would appear that the the creators have treated it as a means to take aim at a government body that existed with the singular purpose of finding better homes for a community of people that had previously felt alienated and mistreated. At no point did it feel as though Ballymun Regeneration Limited failed to live up to their end of the bargain. The residents of the tower buildings were re-homed into modern and urban dwellings conveniently located across the road. And all at the same price; entirely free. Paid for with government money originally sourced from the salaries and wages of hard-working Irish citizens who strive to live in privately funded domiciles. For this reason it was difficult to sympathize with the residents’ circumstances and the efforts of the filmmakers alike.
The film’s opening title delivers us with the Dublin City Council motto; “Obedientia Civium Urbis Felicitas” which is translated to ‘’Happy is the city whose citizens obey’’. Honestly, this felt like a rather lazy attempt to villainize the efforts of a public body who had clearly strived to deliver the citizens of Ballymun with better suited living facilities. Also, quite annoyingly, the film never offers any sort of explanation for its cryptic title. To be honest, there is nothing earth-shattering about the revelations uncovered in this supposedly expository piece of film. The greatest crime committed by the BRL it would seem, is the lack of funding it contributed to an oral history project of the community. The filmmakers seemingly regard this as a despotic attempt to wipe the existence of the Ballymun community from memory by dismantling the indigenous narrative. Instead of instilling the audience with a taste of what this narrative was or could have been, the filmmakers have opted in its stead to vilify the public bodies tasked with the unenviable job of re-housing the community members.
If anything, The 4th Act serves only to further muddy the waters of what was undoubtedly a difficult transition.
The 4th Act screened Sat 25th Feb 2017 at Cineworld and Sun 26th Feb 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival