In this podcast, Gemma Creagh met up with Gerard Mannix Flynn, in The Westbury Hotel in Dublin to talk about his film – co-directed with Maedhbh McMahon & Lotta Petronella – Land Without God, which examines the legacy of institutional abuse by the Irish Church and State over the last century.
This documentary style film follows Gerard Mannix Flynn and his family’s traumatic experience within multiple institutions run by state and church in Ireland.
The film gives light to the aftermath of violence many people have felt due to the power of church officials and how they ran certain institutions with an iron fist while preaching the word of god. Gerard revisits some of the institutions he was incarcerated within while breaking this up with interviews with his family and their experiences within the same or similar places.
The story within aims to hit hard and it does deliver as many people can relate to the story being told whether through themselves or their own family members. The fear within Gerard’s family members to this day is evident as they speak out and it is visible that their words are chosen with careful consideration with the aim of being able to tell what happened but also fear of retaliation even in modern-day Ireland.
The only thing that took me away from the events being portrayed was the way in which the interviews were broken up. Gerard walking around the old institutions brought home the actual story being told but the break-up of the interviews with him in a room with only a chalkboard seemed unnecessary and brought me back to reality and not immersed in the events being told to me. The lack of narration did the same thing, but I have less quarrel with this while Gerard walked around the old buildings as sometimes you need the silence to appreciate the scene being shown to you.
Overall, I feel obliged to thank Gerard and his family for being brave enough to speak out about what happened to them in relation to the physical, sexual and psychological abuse they suffered day in and day out when incarcerated within these places as children. The underlying theme of the story is that both violence and incarceration can only breed more violence and incarceration. This film is an important document that examines the legacy of institutional abuse by the Irish Church and State and poses the question of whether it is ever possible to exit the traumas it inflicted on the people whose lives it took away.
David Deignan takes a look at Land Without God, an intimate portrait of a family coming to terms with decades of institutional abuse and the impact it has had and is still having on their lives.
Land Without God is a raw, emotional and unflinching investigation into the effect that decades of repeated institutional abuse has had, and continues to have, on Gerard Mannix Flynn and his family. Flynn, who co-directs alongside Maedhbh McMahon and Lotta Petronella, bravely steps in front of the camera to act as our guide through his own harrowing story. He is our narrator, speaking to the audience in voice-over monologues, and our protagonist. While the film is framed around his family’s experiences (he conducts a host of raw, visceral interviews a host of them on camera – apparently the first time that they’ve truly opened up to each other about their shared childhood experiences), this is Flynn’s story first and foremost. We learn in great detail of the injustices inflicted upon him as he revisits the decaying sites of the reformatory schools and juvenile detention centres where he suffered in his youth. He remains staunch as he recounts his visceral stories for us, but there is a fierce emotion – a mix of sorrow, frustration and sheer anger – which underpins his every bitter word. The documentary is broken into chapters, each one detailing a different, difficult period of Flynn’s upbringing and, through his and his family’s stories, it accounts to a shocking exposition of the extent to which Irish children have been grossly mistreated in institutions throughout the years. The atmosphere at the film’s Dublin International Film Festival was noticeably charged, with many of Flynn’s family in attendance, which really highlighted the film’s nuanced balance of tone. It’s understandably heavy going for the most part, but it injects humour at smart intervals to break the tension. Land Without God is no-frills, and pulls no punches. Flynn and his extended family have been torn about, both individually and collectively by cruelty, but they come across as intensely steadfast – and acutely aware that they’re far from the only ones to have been mistreated in similar circumstances. Their admissions are intensely moving, and their sheer honesty must be admired. They display such fragility onscreen, and deserve immense credit for their bravery. The film isn’t without its issues, mind At 65 minutes it’s relatively short but the pacing is still uneven while it can be repetitive, especially at points during Flynn’s long monologues. But these are small complaints. This is powerful cinema, which tells a story which needs to be heard and deserves to find an audience. The message at the centre is that, for the abused, justice has proved to be little more than a word in a dictionary. It would be foolish to think that forms of institutional abuse are consigned to Ireland’s history and in this sense, with an eye on contemporary prisons, care homes and the addiction and homeless sectors, Land Without God is an important attack on past injustices which still feel tragically and painfully present.