The Image that you Missed
Arthur MacCaig was an American, the descendent of immigrants who fled the great famine in the 1850s. When visiting Ireland in the 70s, he found a sense of solidarity with the Republicans (the Irish kind, not the American political party) of West Belfast, and became a filmmaker to tell their story. Over the course of the following 30 or so years, he made a number of documentaries about popular resistance movements, mostly Ireland. In 2008 he died suddenly while walking the streets of Belfast.
And in 1985, his son Donal Foreman was born. They only met a few times during Arthur’s life, but when he died, Donal travelled to his home in Paris and gathered up the ephemera of his filmmaking career. Donal shot some footage of his apartment before undertaking this task, and it’s at the heart of this movie.
Most of the film is footage that MacCaig shot in the North, snippets of various events - members of the IRA addressing the crowd at a gig, extolling them not to interact with British soldiers, training, patrolling the streets of Belfast, kids at play. This is interspersed with various pieces Donal shot, ranging from silly things he did with his friends as a kid, though his short dramas and documentaries, and a single clip from his first feature film, 2014’s Out of Here. And over the top there is narration - a series of quotes from MacCaig and letters he sent to Donal’s Mother during her pregnancy and just after his birth (all voiced by an actor), Donal talking about his perspective on his father’s work, on his personal history and his own life - and in one heartbreaking moment, Donal’s mother reads out a letter she sent to MacCaig following a disastrous meeting between them in the 90s.
It’s a very personal work. MacCaig isn’t well known even here, most of his work was for French and German TV (he has a French wiki page but not a English one), so there isn’t a wealth of work about him. Donal talks at some length about this, because of their estranged relationship (they met only one time more after that trip in the 90s), he has very little connection to MacCaig. It’s not a particularly cathartic story, there’s no grand conclusion except that their lives intertwined only briefly, but it’s a fascinating exploration of the connection between these two filmmakers.
And it’s doubly interesting for me, because this was background noise for my life. Not just the conflict in Northern Ireland. but Donal Foreman is a cousin of mine. His mother is my mum’s sister (herself a huge influence on my life), and I remember some of the events Donal touches on from our shared childhood and young adulthood. Even though his narration is steady and unemotional, there is an emotional undercurrent that I might not have been privy to at the time, many of the events being related to me by my mother or Maeve after the fact. There’s an odd connection and disconnect here, and i wonder how someone who doesn’t have that link will view it.
And really, everyone who gets a chance should do so. It’s doing the film festival rounds in Europe at the moment, and given that Donal lives in New York, I assume it’ll make it over there at some point too.