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Interview: O'Domhnaill Lays Down 'The Pipe'
10 Nov 2010 : By Aileen Moon
Willie Broadhaven in The Pipe
The Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) will host an exclusive screening of Risteard O’Domhnaill’s ‘The Pipe’ on Thursday, November 11th for Academy members to preview the film before it goes on nationwide release on December 3rd. The director, Risteard O Domhnaill and producer, Rachel Lysaght will be in attendance at the screening and will participate in a Q&A session afterwards.

In the run up to the event IFTN spoke with Risteard about his experience of and approach to telling the story of Shell’s proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline through Rossport and the opposition this move was met with.
‘The Pipe‘ is a feature documentary that examines the protest that rose up amongst Irish farmers and fisherman against Shell Oil’s decision to build a high pressure pipe for the transportation of raw gas through the town of Rossport to an inland refinery. The film depicts clashes between protestors and the Gardaí and explores the story of the five local men known as the ‘Rossport Five' who served prison sentences for their respective roles in the protest.

Risteard tells me he sees Rossport as a kind of second home – having visited his uncle there frequently since childhood. As to documenting the controversial events following Shell’s arrival, Risteard says one specific event triggered a creative reaction:In October 2006, about a year after the Rossport Five were released from prison, the government gave the go-ahead to Shell to go back onto the site,” he explains. “The locals had been blockading it for about a year but a force of about 200 Gardaí were sent down in the middle of the night and they moved in on the locals and lifted them out of the way, and towed their cars out of the way of the gate. I started filming out of curiosity, and because it was so close by.”

The Pipe
The Pipe

Risteard originally filmed proceedings to send on to news programmes for inclusion in their packages but was regularly unhappy with how his work was being used: “After a while, I felt that what I was seeing on the ground and what was being represented through the media, especially through the newspapers, was very different,” he says. “And that the local people were being done a huge injustice by the media, they were really being misrepresented. There were stories being read, and from them you would think they were all lunatics, anarchists and republicans down there – mad stuff altogether! They were basing this loosely on a few nutballs that would come and go to the protests, who were really quite harmless people, but the media just jumped on that element and exaggerated it to no end.”

Thus ‘The Pipe’ came into being. The feature doc is produced by Underground Films’ Rachel Lysaght for Scannáin Inbhear and sees Risteard chronicle the story of how Shell’s decision has changed the face of a small Irish community, possibly irrevocably. For four years Risteard followed the actions of both sides and made use of his uncle’s standing in the town to obtain access to three key members of the community. He followed Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport Five, Monica Müller who controversially refused to join protests but whose court action delivered a major blow to Shell and Pat 'The Chief' O'Donnell, a local fisherman who was repeatedly arrested for sailing his small fishing boat into the path of the gigantic pipe-layer. “Because they had been so damaged by the media, they had some trust in me because I was the only person on the ground sending back footage to news to represent the story,” Risteard tells us, when asked about the trust element required with such cooperation. “Plus, I was there for so long that I became part of the furniture. Willie would see me coming and say “Oh no, not Richie!” And they must have thought I had worms or something, because they’d always feed me!”

Risteard seems to have enjoyed similar intimate access to all aspects of the story: I had a pretty small camera and the Gardaí took no notice after a while,” he says, “I was on first name basis with them a lot of them – the longer you spend around people, the less on their guard they would be. And although the Guards were undisciplined a lot of the time and probably over-stepped the mark, they were fairly good to me  in that they never tried to stop me from filming really, which I appreciate, given that there were plenty of thumps and batons and the works. The one thing I was careful of in the film was that I didn’t want this to be construed as a ‘Garda-bashing’.” 

Nigel O'Rgean, Rachel Lysaght, Risteard O’Domhnaill
Nigel O'Rgean, Rachel Lysaght, Risteard O'Domhnaill

The director carried this careful approach into the editing suite: “There was a lot of very sensationalist stuff in the rushes, which we took out,” Risteard explains. “We wanted to stick with the actual story and if it wasn’t relevant to the story, no matter how shocking it was, it didn’t go in.

“There were big decisions in the edit, and it’s a big credit to the editor Nigel O’ Regan - the honesty with which he edited the footage. It could have gotten into an activist documentary, which it is not, it is just a documentary about a community. The background happens to be Shell, a big oil company and a beautiful bay, but at its heart it is about a community. One thing that Nigel did is let the footage breathe for itself, he didn’t try to overcut it, he only cut it when he had to, when there was a need to.”

Shell did not participate in the making of the documentary, but not from lack of trying on Risteard’s part: “I wanted to get the perspective from Shell,” he says. “But they always wanted to have control over an interview or editorial control, and I couldn’t do that, so in the end I just had to draw a line in the sand, to give them a deadline and say ‘If you don’t put someone forward for an open interview I can’t include you in the film, nor will I try to explain your story for you.’ And they didn’t.”

‘The Pipe’ picked up the Best Documentary Award at the Galway Film Fleadh this summer followed by acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It further played to sell-out screenings at the BFI London Film Festival last month and is currently screening at the Corona Cork Film Festival.

‘The Pipe’ has received rave reviews from international publications such as Variety, Screen International and Time Out London. Risteard sees it as a tribute to the people of Rossport that the story has resonated far and wide: “The people of Rossport have been so isolated for so long, and so damaged through the media that is was great to see how much people appreciated their story and how much is resonated as an international story. Even in Canada as well, people could see elements of the story in their own community – fighting against a big development or company and how difficult it is, as they just seem to have unlimited resources. There are so many elements that transfer into a global story - it could be a community in Canada, a community in Nigeria, a community in Russia, or England... people identify with it, and identify with the characters because the characters are so normal.” 

  • The Pipe’is being released at cinemas nationwide from the 3rd December. News about the feature doc and information with regards to its Irish theatrical release are available on www.thepipethefilm.com/main-sect.

  • The exclusive IFTA screening of ‘The Pipe’ will take place on Thursday, November 11th in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema. All IFTA Members are welcome and should contact the IFTA office on (01) 662 4120 with ticket requests. For information on how to become an IFTA Member visit www.ifta.ie

 





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