- 08 Aug 18
The personal and political collide in essay about nation and family
"I always felt I came from a place, not a nation." Here the apple falls far from the tree, and it's this distance that is explored in Donal Foreman's deeply personal, autobiographical film essay. Foreman is the son of Irish-American filmmaker and radical Arthur MacCaig, who spent years documenting the conflict in Northern Ireland - though the two only met a handful of times before MacCaig's death in 2008.
Structured as a letter to MacCaig, Foreman unearths never before seen material from his father's archives, which not only chronicle MacCaig's upbringing in New Jersey and his years living in Paris, but also include incredible footage of the IRA in Belfast. This careful, therapeutic structure, which also includes title cards with Seamus Heaney quotes to demarcate different chapters, almost self-consciously contrasts with the cinematic style of his father. MacCaig's work was deliberately impressionistic, eschewing the conventions of form to evoke the tumultuous atmosphere and terrifying unpredictability of the Troubles.
Their differing styles aren't the only way that the father and son's lives contrasted. While MacCaig moved from America to Europe, Foreman did the opposite; the year Foreman made his first film, MacCaig made his last. And Foreman pushes the theme of contradiction and connection, exploring their different experiences of Irish nationalism and use of imagery to highlight social struggles. Foreman juxtaposes MacCaig's footage of violence and balaclava-clad, gun-bearing IRA members with childhood home movies, including scenes of Foreman stumbling around, covered in fake blood - kids playing at being criminals.