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Watch Brendan Culleton's 'Congo; An Irish Affair' in Irish Cinemas
06 Sep 2011 :
Congo; An Irish Affair
Directed by Brendan Culleton (Diarmaid & Strongbow) and Irina Maldea (The Patriot Game), the Akajava Films’ feature documentary tells the story of the Irish State involvement in Congo affairs as representatives of the United Nations Force following Congolese independence from Belgium in 1960. The documentary uses previously unseen archives and interview with Irish army veterans of the Irish Army 35th Battalion, who attempted to safeguard the newly independent Congo from attacking militia forces.

The film was funded by TG4, the Irish Film Board and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and supported by MEDIA. Brendan Culleton also wrote and produced the documentary.

We caught up with director Brendan Culleton to find out more about ‘Congo; an Irish Affair’ ahead of its limited Irish release.

IFTN: Can you tell me why you though this story was right for a documentary?

Brendan: There had been a couple of books about it and there had been a campaign by the veterans to get recognition. We just felt it was a great story about ordinary Irish people doing extraordinary things.

It was also a story that Ireland was at the centre of. This happened during one week in the Congo and everyone was looking at it. It was Ireland’s big moment. Irish diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien and all the Irish soldiers were out in Katanga. For that moment, back in 1961, all eyes were on these soldiers and they did so well.

IFTN: The story appears to have been forgotten by the Irish public and army…

Brendan: It had been totally forgotten - and deliberately so. The army wasn’t interested in it. They pushed it under the carpet. They were even called cowards by some people. But that’s all different now and it seems to be striking a chord with the Irish audiences, they like to see an Irish hero.

IFTN: How have the veterans reacted to the film?

Brendan: I think it was catharsis for them to be in the documentary. Even for those who didn’t come on screen, there is an element of catharsis. A lot of these soldiers were shy old men, who came from very normal lives and are very ordinary people. They don’t like the limelight. Many veterans have turned up to the screenings and the reaction has been tremendous. I’ve never had such a reaction.

We showed it at the Jameson Dublin Film Festival and the audience was full of these veterans that were waiting to shake hands and say ‘thank you very much’ at the end. I didn’t do anything, they did all the work. Still, for them and for people in the army it was great to see their story up on the big screen. A lot of their relatives and wives even were saying ‘Oh, now I see what he was talking about!’

We are delighted that it has received a theatrical release. It’s fantastic that it is being shown in so many venues. It is one of the few Irish straight historical documentaries that has got a theatrical release. 

'Congo; An Irish Affair’ will play at SGC Cinemas, Cineplex Carrick-on-Shannon and Access Cinema venues around the country from September 14th.  An extended version will be aired on TG4 this December.

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