‘Hubert Butler Witness To The Future’ Dublin Screening this Weekend

 Dublin

 

Johnny Gogan’s documentary Hubert Butler Witness To The Future screens this weekend at the New Theatre, East Essex Street at 3.00pm on Saturday, 28th May and 4.00pm and 7.00pm on Sunday 28th.
 
Hubert Butler: Witness To The Future traces Kilkenny essayist Hubert Butler’s journey through Stalinist Russia of the early 1930s, through pre­war Vienna, where he worked to smuggle Jews into Ireland, to his exposure of the hidden genocide of half a million Orthodox Serbs in World War2.
 
Using recently declassified documents, Gogan’s highly visual and expansive film explores why Butler “was fifty years ahead of his time” and “one of the great Irish writers”
 
You can read an interview with Johnny here

 

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ADIFF Irish Film Review: Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future

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June Butler takes in Johnny Gogan’s documentary about Irish essayist Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Born in 1900 to a family that could trace their roots to the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, Hubert Butler thrived on the peaceful existence of a life that included a zest for growing apples in his own orchard. Not being without a robust sense of humour, Butler was oft heard describing himself as a writer and market gardener.

His fluency in Russian enabled a translation of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard (1904), which is still in use to this day. He loved the slow pace in his ancestral home of Maidenhall and was a popular figure in the local village of Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny. Despite having travelled extensively throughout the Balkans in his early life and learned multiple languages along the way, Butler’s heart first and foremost, lay in the land where he was born and he maintained the mantra that local history was eminently more important than national history. Indeed, Hubert Butler went so far as to insist that ‘where life is fully and consciously lived in our own neighbourhood, we are cushioned a little from the impact of great far-off events which should be of only marginal concern to us’.

Butler was passionately committed to verbally defending Ireland both within and without from forces that at times threatened the integrity and stability of the nationalist core he strove to protect  – sometimes even at great sacrifice to his own mental and physical wellbeing. On more than one occasion, Butler held forth on matters of great portend to a disbelieving public who aimed derisive criticism at this man of letters when the opposite should have been the case. While he may have appeared mild-mannered, when circumstances dictated, Butler had a firm grasp on the subtly of politics and could deliver stinging rebuttals as his rivals all too humiliatingly became aware.

Ireland was, and remains, deeply indebted to Butler’s unwavering morality and nowhere is it more evident than in Johnny Gogan’s in-depth and soulful film on Butler’s life ‘Hubert Butler; Witness to the Future’. Aided by poet Chris Agee, Gogan ably narrates Butler as an expert essayist and considers him to have been at least fifty years ahead of his time when it came to summarising events of national and international importance.

Gogan claims that Butler was able to predict with unerring accuracy future happenings in the volatile arena of pre and post-war Europe. It is testament to the level of investigation into Butler’s life that his writings are mentioned throughout the documentary with such affection and to such a relentless level of detail. Gogan has literally left no stone unturned.

In my interview with Johnny Gogan, he took into account Butler’s devotion to the country life and in no small way, Gogan has included the orchard at Maidenhall where Hubert Butler spent so many happy hours, almost as an expert witness but equally silent additional cast member. When discussing Butler’s impact on modern history, Gogan said one thing that above all made him feel he was in the presence of greatness – Butler he averred, wore his learning lightly and with humility. The magnitude of knowledge he possessed was vast and yet Hubert Butler was a model of reservation and sincerity – unless his conscience was piqued in which case, Butler’s righteous rebukes were remorseless and acerbic. Gogan goes on to prove his words by stating Hubert Butler travelled to Austria at his own expense in 1938 and rescued Jews who were almost certainly due to be transported to work camps prior to the outbreak of WWII. There are dozens of Jews who could place the claim of survival firmly at the feet of Hubert Butler and his wife Peggy.

People often made the point that Butler’s writings could be compared to those of George Orwell. I would go a stage further and suggest that Butler’s writings were unique and comparable only to one – that of Hubert Butler himself. It is right and fitting that through the remarkable vision of Johnny Gogan, Butler has finally come to our attention for his supreme acts of humanity and recognition as the man of learning he truly was. Generations of Irish will have much to thank Johnny Gogan for this wonderful film.

 

Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future screened on 22nd February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February) 

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Interview: Johnny Gogan, director of ‘Hubert Butler: Witness To The Future’

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Johnny Gogan’s new documentary Hubert Butler: Witness To The Future, traces Kilkenny essayist Hubert Butler’s journey through Stalinist Russia of the early 1930s, through pre­war Vienna, where he worked to smuggle Jews into Ireland, to his exposure of the hidden genocide of half a million Orthodox Serbs in World War2.

Using recently declassified documents, Gogan’s highly visual and expansive film explores why Butler “was fifty years ahead of his time” and “one of the great Irish writers”

Johnny Gogan told June Butler how the project came about.

 

I heard about Hubert Butler around the time he had been published in the late 1980s. I hadn’t read him. Three years ago I was in Belgrade and I attended a lecture by the poet and publisher Chris Agee. He was talking about Hubert’s writings on Archbishop Stepinac, the wartime Croatian Catholic Archbishop in Zagreb. Hubert wrote a lot about this period and about Stepinac as a central character – and he actually met Stepinac when he was subsequently imprisoned for treason and collaboration with the Ustaše regime. I was talking to Chris about this and a few lights started to go off my head.

Butler was very interested in the local world, the power of the local, and very much wary of that centralised phenomenon that you get in the western world and in big cities.  I myself have been based in North Leitrim for the last 20 years, so I kind of understood that aspect of his work. I had also touched on that in my film Mapmaker back in 2001, which is about the tensions in a border community in the years after the ceasefires. That was quite influenced by what had happened in the Balkans in the ’90s.

Hubert Butler had in many ways predicted what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s and saw the roots of its violence and the intensity of the violence in what happened in Croatia in the Second World War. You can see it for example in his essay ‘The Artukovitch File’ and in an unpublished essay I found called ‘The Trial’ – he talks about seeing how the seeds of future treason lay in what had happened in the Second World War, particularly in Croatia – and how that had been, in many ways, swept under the carpet.

He wrote exhaustively and very skilfully about that period. He was in the extraordinary position where he came in for criticism from both sides. Butler was obviously really critical of the Catholic Church’s role in the genocide of half a million Orthodox Serbs in Croatia during the Second World War. But he was also critical of Tito and the way the Communists were dealing with the aftermath of that. They didn’t deal with the guilt and the responsibility, the way that Germany had been confronted with it. So he writes that in 1946 I see the seeds of future treason in the way these crimes are being tried and dealt with.

And then in Ireland he’s also being criticized. He confronts Ireland at the time with what has happened in Croatia and nobody wants to hear. The State and the Church conspired to silence him. And then you have Peadar O’Donnell, one of Ireland’s foremost radicals, telling him to go easy on the Communists. Butler was a very brave, very moral, very informed man.

What I love about Butler, and what I’ve always felt strongly about, is that Ireland should have a much wider international vision for itself beyond obviously a relationship with Britain and the way we have subsumed our international vision into the EU. We hide behind the EU a lot. Butler was saying that Ireland has a role to play as a new nation, as a postcolonial nation, able to put forward a different view of the world and that was potentially shared by many other countries that got their independence and liberation around the same time. That is still very relevant. That vision he developed in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s is still very true and the kind of provincialism that Ireland was slipping  into at that time is still very true – obviously with some exceptions… but we like to think of ourselves as very cosmopolitan. But actually we are quite provincial and quite derivative in our thinking. This is why from an Irish perspective I wanted to make this film. I also found that I hadn’t read a lot or seen a lot about what he was writing about. There are sensations you have yourself but then you see someone articulate them and you just think wow.

 

Hubert Butler: Witness To The Future screens at the Light House Cinema on Monday, 22nd February 2016 at 8:30PM 

 

 

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The 2016 Audi Dublin International Film Festival takes place 18th and 28th February 2016. 

 

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