‘I Am Belfast’ DVD/Blu-ray Release on 20th June

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I Am Belfast sees celebrated filmmaker, writer and curator Mark Cousins (The Story of Film: An Odyssey, A Story of Children and Film, Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise) cast his painterly eye on his hometown, the port city of Belfast.

 

After its recent cinema opening, I Am Belfast will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in a Dual Format Edition by the BFI on 20 June 2016. Special features include a making-of documentary and interviews with Mark Cousins, actress Helena Bereen and renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

 

Beautifully shot by Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Rabbit-Proof Fence) and with a powerful soundtrack by the great Northern Irish musician and composer David Holmes (Ocean’s Eleven, ’71, Hunger), Cousins’ film takes viewers on an emotional journey through the complex and sometimes tragic history of the Northern Irish capital, which is embodied as a 10,000-year-old woman, compellingly portrayed by Helena Bereen (Hunger, Mo).

 

Interspersing archive material (often detailing the horrors of the Troubles) with newly filmed footage, I Am Belfast is an impassioned and politically engaged love-letter to Cousins’ hometown.

 

 

 

Special features

  • The Making of I Am Belfast (Timo Langer, 2015, 14 mins)
  • A Conversation with Mark Cousins (2015, 14 mins)
  • A Conversation with Helena Bereen (2015, 11 mins)
  • A Conversation with Christopher Doyle (2015, 10 mins)
  • I Am Belfast: A Cinematic Walk with Mark Cousins (Takeover Film, 2016, 18 mins)
  • Original trailer
  • Illustrated booklet with new writing by Mark Cousins and Ian Christie, and full film credits
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Review: I Am Belfast

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DIR/WRI: Mark Cousins • PRO: John Archer, Chris Martin • DOP: Christopher Doyle • ED: Timo Langer • DES: Shane Bunting • MUS: David Holmes • CAST: Richard Buick, Simon Millar, Shane McCaffrey, Helena Bereen

Personifying places and indeed the entire island of Ireland as a woman has been a recurring trope in Irish literature and culture for many centuries, including seminal texts such as W.B. Yeat’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Pearse’s Mise Éire. Mark Cousins’ I am Belfast provides an innovative updating of this trope in the figure of a 10,000 year old woman (Helena Bereen) who claims to be the city itself and takes the filmmaker on a journey through time and space, recounting its historical development while travelling through its distinctive streets and landscape. In the process, Cousins offers one of the most innovative studies of an Irish city; his film is partly a paean to its people, language and culture, partly an impressive rendering of the distinctive colours and shapes one finds while walking the streets of Belfast, and partly a hopeful song to a future without bigotry and division.

Cousins is fortunate to have collaborators such as acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle and composer David Holmes who visually and aurally complement Cousins’ own refreshing and engaging dialogue with the elderly woman as he travels across the city and into its past. Few previous films have managed to render the distinctive architecture and colours of Belfast as effectively; there is also a patience to the film’s pacing that allows for the viewer to fully appreciate the film’s aesthetic achievement. Cousins even manages to find a peculiar beauty in the play of light and colour on the ‘peace walls’ that continue to divide communities across the city – more now even than during the height of the Troubles.

Belfast is unfortunately still primarily associated in film and television with recurring generic depictions of the Troubles and its aftermath; and Cousins, despite his own stated reluctance, does not shy away from confronting the legacy of Belfast’s traumatic and violent past. Indeed, he engages directly with some of the most disturbing events, including the horrific bombing of McGurk’s Bar in 1971 in which 15 civilians were killed and a further 17 seriously injured.

I am Belfast includes archive footage to incorporate events during the Troubles into its narrative; however, the film’s principal focus is on Belfast today and the hope that may lie in the future. Cousins films the mock-up of McGurk’s bar created under a Belfast underpass in 2011 and ponders the possibility of a different encounter between ‘salt and sweet’, Protestant and Catholic, beyond the traumatic legacies of the past. He personifies this evocatively in the imagined funeral of the ‘last bigot in Belfast’, and an upbeat funeral procession is featured towards the film’s close.

At a time when filmmakers have been hesitant to engage with the difficult legacies of Belfast’s past, Cousins provides a timely intervention while pointing to a future where all the city’s inhabitants could take pride in the spaces and places they inhabit.

Seán Crosson

84 minutes

I Am Belfast will screen at the IFI on Wednesday, 20th April 2016
at 18.30

 

This review was originally written for the film’s screening at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema(Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland(Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS)

 

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: I am Belfast

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Seán Crosson heads North in Mark Cousins’ documentary I am Belfast, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Personifying places and indeed the entire island of Ireland as a woman has been a recurring trope in Irish literature and culture for many centuries, including seminal texts such as W.B. Yeat’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Pearse’s Mise Éire. Mark Cousins’ I am Belfast provides an innovative updating of this trope in the figure of a 10,000 year old woman (Helena Bereen) who claims to be the city itself and takes the filmmaker on a journey through time and space, recounting its historical development while travelling through its distinctive streets and landscape. In the process Cousins offers one of the most innovative studies of an Irish city; his film is partly a paean to its people, language and culture, partly an impressive rendering of the distinctive colours and shapes one finds while walking the streets of Belfast, and partly a hopeful song to a future without bigotry and division.

Cousins is fortunate to have collaborators such as acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle and composer David Holmes who visually and aurally complement Cousins’ own refreshing and engaging dialogue with the elderly woman as he travels across the city and into its past. Few previous films have managed to render the distinctive architecture and colours of Belfast as effectively; there is also a patience to the film’s pacing that allows for the viewer to fully appreciate the film’s aesthetic achievement. Cousins even manages to find a peculiar beauty in the play of light and colour on the ‘peace walls’ that continue to divide communities across the city – more now even than during the height of the Troubles.

Belfast is unfortunately still primarily associated in film and television with recurring generic depictions of the Troubles and its aftermath; and Cousins, despite his own stated reluctance, does not shy away from confronting the legacy of Belfast’s traumatic and violent past. Indeed, he engages directly with some of the most disturbing events, including the horrific bombing of McGurk’s Bar in 1971 in which 15 civilians were killed and a further 17 seriously injured.

I am Belfast includes archive footage to incorporate events during the Troubles into its narrative; however, the film’s principal focus is on Belfast today and the hope that may lie in the future. Cousins films the mock-up of McGurk’s bar created under a Belfast underpass in 2011 and ponders the possibility of a different encounter between ‘salt and sweet’, Protestant and Catholic, beyond the traumatic legacies of the past. He personifies this evocatively in the imagined funeral of the ‘last bigot in Belfast’, and an upbeat funeral procession is featured towards the film’s close.

At a time when filmmakers have been hesitant to engage with the difficult legacies of Belfast’s past, Cousins provides a timely intervention while pointing to a future where all the city’s inhabitants could take pride in the spaces and places they inhabit.

 

Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema (Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland (Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS)

 

 I am Belfast screened on Sunday, 12th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 

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JDIFF: 'The First Movie' – Magic Realist Documentary

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WRI/DIR/DOP: Mark Cousins  • PRO: Gill Parry • ED: Timo Langer • Sound: Brent Calkin

IFI, Eustace Street, Sunday February 20th 6:30pm

‘The First Movie’ is an altogether different type of documentary to ‘Barbaric Genius’. In the Q&A chaired by documentary filmmaker Ken Wardrop, writer/director Mark Cousins talked about his love of all types of documentary be they visual, poetic, or campaign type. This was labelled as a magic realist documentary, with very little camera movement and was influenced by the films of Humphrey Jenning’s amongst others.

It was shot in Kurdistan, Iraq, though the word ‘Iraq’ is not mentioned until close to the end of the film. A choice Cousins made as the word ‘Iraq’ conjurs up so many images that he wanted to show the village of Goptapa with out these preconceived ideas.

It is a visually stunning piece, at times surreal and philisophical, clearly influenced by his hero David Lynch and with an arresting use of scared music.

The crew consisted of Cousins, who was writer, director and DOP with Brent Calkin his Canadian sound recordist and Timo Langer another filmmaker who edited. Gill Parry his producer was there for about half the shoot. He stressed the importance of having a good local translator and this small crew, at their lawyers insistance, had four security guards at all times.

The documentary focuses on the children of this small village, and Cousins interviews and films them before deciding to give small cameras to three of them and then inviting them to go off and make their own films. One of the few adults interviewed on camera was not filmed by Cousins himself but by one of the children taking part. This eldery woman movingly described the gassing of the town by unnamed forces, as we know under Saddam’s orders, and the huge number of deaths it caused.

Similar to Ron Cooney, the insirational music teacher in ‘Ballymun Lullaby’, Cousins wants to introduce his love of film to the children and he organises screenings of little known childrens films plus ‘E.T.’ to the delight of the kids. At the Q&A Cousins remarked that Brent, the sound recordist, was moved to tears while recording the cheers of the delight of the children at the big screen.

The parallels with Ron Cooney continue as all proceeds are going to provide musical equipment for the music teacher in the village who currently does not have any instruments. It is 18 months since he finished shooing and although it is very expensive to get there, Cousins intends to return soon to see what effect music and film have had on these budding filmmakers.

Gordon Gaffney

‘Barbaric Genius’ report

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