Aoife O’Neill was at the 2020 Toronto Irish Film Festival and caught Tom Burke’s documentary about the men who unwittingly became war photographers on the streets of their own Northern Irish towns.

Following on from the second shorts programme at the festival, the first of two documentaries to complete the 2020 festival was Tom Burke’s Shooting the Darkness. Combining interviews with archival film and photographs, the viewer is invited into the world of The Troubles in Northern Ireland (1960-2000). This time, however, we see it through the eyes of the men who became unlikely war photographers in their own towns and villages. 

Many of the photographers began their careers depicting mundane and normal events; local weddings and town gatherings that would be seen in local newspapers. When unrest and protests began occurring in their local streets they were able to capture moments and events that even professional news reporters could not. By taking a neutral stance they were able to befriend both sides, sometimes being invited into the centre of funeral homes, private meetings or behind firing lines-all with a camera in hand to document the event to the public.

This documentary is the perfect example of how we may think we know a lot about a certain time in history, but there is always a different point of view to be discovered. Many of the photographers did not take a particular side but simply depicted what was happening at that time. The documentary investigates how certain iconic images came to be taken and the effect that it had on these brave photographers. They captured images that may not have been seen, had they not been there. Important images that now have historical significance. 

We are allowed a rare insight into how real life unfolded before the photographer’s eyes and what they were thinking before they pulled the trigger and captured these images, such as the image of Father Edward Daly waving a bloody handkerchief on Bloody Sunday. From watching the film is it obvious that each of the interviewees are still coming to terms with what happened during this horrific time in Irish History.

This is a documentary that we should all view. It is important to remember just how much progress the peace talks made to end the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is clear that without the captured images, the wider public would not have been so well informed and talks of peace might not have happened when they did. 

Shooting The Darkness screened as part of the 2020 Toronto Irish Film Festival on 1st March.


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