DIR/WRI: Alex Gibney • PRO: Trevor Birney, Alex Gibney • DOP: Stan Harlow, Ross McDonnell • ED: Andy Grieve • MUS: Ivor Guest
No Stone Unturned opens with a recreation of a massacre shot on the location where it happened. On 18th June 1994, The Heights Bar in the small town of Loughinisland, County Down, was showing the Ireland v Italy match in the 1994 World Cup. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force burst into the bar and sprayed it with gunfire. Six Catholic men were killed. Five other people were wounded, including the barman who works there to this day. The gunmen were never brought to justice and this new documentary from Alex Gibney sheds light on why.
The Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney shot a re-enactment of the massacre and then began to research more into the mysterious circumstances surrounding it. Gibney is a good fit for this material as it addresses the psychology behind cover-ups that so much of his work explores. He is lauded for his exposés on the abuse of power in cults, be it Scientology in Going Clear or the Catholic Church in Mea Maxima Culpa. His documentary We Steal Secrets cast a critical eye on both the US military-industrial complex and on Wikileaks.
Gibney navigates murky subjects with clarity. He does not shy away from rattling cages. His interview skills allow him to be firm yet calm, drawing out insight and honesty from his subjects. Gibney is in his element with No Stone Unturned even though it deals with particularly sensitive issues. He is able to establish trust with interview subjects who have much cause to feel on-guard. He begins by interviewing family members of the victims of the Loughinisland massacre. It establishes not just their grief but the creeping realisation that the police investigation is stalling them. Years go by without leads being pursued, prompting the families to campaign for justice with a lawyer. This culminates in revelations captured in this documentary.
Gibney’s outsider status to Northern Irish politics comes across in clunky choice of language here and there. For the most part, he lays things out quite effectively, making excellent use of archive footage. Gibney establishes a sense of cautious optimism for peace in Northern Ireland around the time of the ’94 World Cup. The harrowing impact of the Loughinisland massacre is conveyed through its universal condemnation. British government ministers declare the attackers will be found and sent to prison. A widow is assured that no stone will be left unturned in police investigations.
Gibney ponders whether the broader political context of the time and the eventual pardoning of paramilitary combatants under the Good Friday Agreement, had an impact on the investigation. The investigation was quieting down, perhaps in service of making a peace agreement easier. There is a more chilling possibility that Gibney chooses to investigate. In the course of interviews with local law enforcement, it is revealed they actually had quite a lot of promising evidence. An abandoned car was found in a local field. So was a bag of weapons. These were not wiped down nor were they burned as would typically happen.
Leaving behind such abundant forensic evidence is suspicious. What’s even more suspicious is that the police had the car destroyed before fully examining it for DNA evidence. Reports begrudgingly released refer to suspects and their interrogators by letters and numbers instead of names. The police are not forthcoming with details on what happened in the investigation, even after a Police Ombudsman report. Journalists and whistle-blowers lay out more context around the restructuring of the police under the power-sharing government.
This matrix of interviews weaves together a suspenseful mystery that uncovers more and more political intrigue. It does this without losing sight of the loss to humanity at stake. Gibney is sensitive towards his subjects throughout. He does however raise an interesting ethical issue when he reveals new information about the case to victims’ family members. This is done on camera on the basis of his own research. After taking the chance they’d appreciate any and all new information, Gibney then has to set out the evidence for his case. Gibney names three suspects and reveals where they live, with one gunman still living in the Loughinisland locality. The chilling dread the locals feel about this is conveyed starkly.
Gibney captures a press conference that confirms his suspicion that the British government was involved in a cover-up. Shocking revelations ensue about collusion with UVF informants and the gun-running of the very weapons from Loughinisland. These are bold claims sure to have a very real impact on the investigation. No Stone Unturned makes it clear how uncovering one strange cover-up leads to uncovering another. There is most likely more of that to follow if more revelations emerge following this film’s release. After all, We Steal Secrets wasn’t out of cinemas for a week when the Edward Snowden revelations happened.
Stories like this keep evolving so if they are going to be captured for a moment in time, you want it laid out like this. You want a filmmaker like Alex Gibney, who understands that a documentary is a film, who understands that you need intrigue without being vague. Building suspense without coming up short on pay-off is a challenge for writers of fiction. Presenting true events in this fashion, Gibney delivers a suspenseful mystery with chilling twists, striking the balance between provocative and tactful that is his hallmark. Fearlessness and a commitment to truth is what’s needed for pieces demanding justice from power like this.
15A (See IFCO for details)
No Stone Unturned is released 10th November 2017