20 March 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Irish documentary Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future available on Netflix this Friday
29 Oct 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Director Johnny Gogan
Netflix has acquired Irish documentary Witness to the Future, directed & produced by Johnny Gogan of Bandit Films, which releases on the streaming platform this Friday, October 29th.

The documentary features interviews with John Banville, Julia Crampton (daughter), Olivia O'Leary, Robert Tobin (biographer), Chris Agee, Fintan O'Toole, Roy Foster, Lara Marlowe, Joe Hone, Suzanna Crampton (granddaughter), Dr. Michael Kennedy, and Antony Farrell.

Witness to The Future was first broadcast on RTE (August 2017) in one hour form as the Nuncio and the Writer. This will be the first opportunity for TV audiences to see the film in feature length form (98mins) following its release in Irish venues in 2016.

Irish essayist and human rights champion Hubert Butler (1900-1991) wrote brilliantly about the “inter-war Jewish crisis,” smuggled Jewish people into Ireland from Vienna before the war and, after the war, exposed the genocide of Jews and Serbs in World War II Yugoslavia. He anticipated the re-emergence of these animosities in a future Balkan War. Butler paid a price for these insights in his home country when, in 1952 he was targeted by the authorities. He was ultimately celebrated as a champion of pluralism.

Using recently de-classified documents in Ireland and focusing on historical events still working their way out in today's international sphere – not least in the rise of populism - this highly visual and expansive film explores why, in the words of Olivia O'Leary, Butler “was fifty years ahead of his time” and, as echoed by Roy Foster and John Banville, “one of the great Irish writers," arguably its greatest modern exponent of the essay form.

However, Butler fell foul of censorship when a "caveat" was issued by Irish President Seán T. O'Kelly in 1952 in the wake of Butler's crossing of the Papal Nuncio. As a result, Butler, whose stature was growing in the early 1950s Ireland as a public figure given his extensive knowledge of European culture, was effectively silenced. The state would have nothing to do with him.  

Nearly forty years later, his work came to the notice of publisher Antony Farrell of Lilliput Press. Butler became an overnight publishing success at the age of 85, with three Lilliput collections in his lifetime followed by New York and Paris collections.

Director, producer, and cinematographer of Witness to the Future, Johnny Gogan has just released his second novel Station to Station - a political thriller set in Spain  - with Lepus Print. He is the director of ten feature length films including this year's Groundswell, described by The Guardian's Chief Critic Peter Bradshaw as "a lesson to communities here and everywhere else to stay vigilant" and for which he has been shortlisted for this year's Radharc Trust award for feature length human rights documentaries.

Gogan’s feature dramas include the award-winning The Last Bus Home (1997); Mapmaker (2002); and Black Ice (2013).  Black Ice will be available to stream on Netflix from December 3rd.  Founding editor of the Film Base publication, Film Ireland in 1987, and of the innovative Adaptation Film Festival (2005-2012), Gogan’s many short films and TV documentaries include his Galway Film Fleadh award winning short film Stephen (1990).    

Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future is available on Netflix from Friday, October 29th.

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