Bloody Sunday is a day that every citizen of Ireland remembers.  Even here in the U.S., the front page of the New York Times read, “Ulster Catholics Protest Killings; Reprisals Vowed.” (Weinraub, 1972)  The “mockumentary” Bloody Sunday provides a unique view on the events.

Scenes of death and violence on the Bogside

However, there is a question to whether the film achieves its goal of presenting equal sides of the events and how the director made this “mockumentary” feel like a documentary.  The coverage of the actual events proves whether the film is slightly biased towards the Catholic citizens of Ireland or merely showing the truth.

“Though the picture makes attempts at balance, ‘Sunday’ is clearly on the side of the 15,000 Irish-Catholic demonstrators.” (Mitchell, 2002)  The film portrays preparations of both sides for the protest taking place January 30, 1972.  An instance in where the film seems rather bias is the way the British paramilitary soldiers are shown.  Every soldier (with the exception of one) seemed to loathe the Irish Catholics for the troubles they have caused while occupying the surrounding area.  The soldiers were grouping every single Northern Irish citizen with the group of “hooligans”, as the film describes them, causing trouble and hurling rocks at them.  This seems a little farfetched until the shooting begins.  The soldiers are shooting to kill at what appears to be unarmed civilians, showing they despise the citizens.

A quick shot of Irish Republican Army (IRA) members breaking a fence with armaments is shown and the camera goes back to the shooting.  In a sense, this is very well balanced.  The soldiers are shooting and being shown as villains yet the IRA members, shown briefly as they are making their escape from the massacre, did nothing.  During the whole shooting sequence, those same IRA men were not shown.  This scene can be interpreted as the IRA fleeing from the defense of innocent civilians but an actual testimony in the Saville Inquiry, an investigation of the Bloody Sunday that began in 1998, from an IRA member of that time described he “felt helpless, angry and disgusted that there was nothing [he] could do.” (McKittrick, 2010)  Since “publicity is the oxygen of terrorism” (Barnett & Reynolds, 2009, p. 2), the IRA did not even have to organize an attack to get the press focused on them because the British military did it for them.  The number of civilians killed increased and the number of the IRA increased tenfold compared to the casualties.  Real coverage of the event provides actual details of that day with eye witness statements.

“Some witnesses said that a few bottles, paving stones, and chair legs were thrown at the troops manning the barrier.  Army officials said the soldiers were attacked with bombs and bullets.”  (Weinraub, 1972)  Contradicting stories of each side appear.  Bombs and bullets or bottles and stones?  Weinraub does a great job covering the story, even providing statements from both IRA organizations at the time, vowing vengeance.  The most powerful statement was from a reverend present at that shooting.  He says once he heard firing he ran for cover, describing the soldiers shooting “indiscriminately and everywhere around them without provocation.” (Weinraub, 1972)  The same exact things done in the film are described in statements the next day after this tragedy occurred.  This credits the film with a little more truth rather than propaganda to gain favor for the Northern Irish citizens.

Across the pond, The Guardian prints the same story with similar statements.  Seven Catholic priests describe the same actions the soldiers took as the reverend in Weinraub’s story.  “We accuse the soldiers of shooting indiscriminately into a fleeing crowd, of gloating over casualties, and of preventing medical and spiritual aid from reaching some of the dying,” and calling the British paratroopers “trained criminals who differ from terrorists only in the air of respectability that a uniform gives them.”  (Hoggart, 1972)  These similar statements coming from local religious leaders are compelling.  Usually, priests do not lie and doing so on such events would cause some citizens to outright deny this.  However, almost none of the 10,000+ marchers present at the shootings have denied it.  The odds of each and every person coming to an agreement to unanimously lie about something like this are astronomically low.  The rest of the article is almost a repeat of the previous article aforementioned yet from different eye witnesses.   The Ireland Information Guide strengthens the priests’’ allegations by stating, “These claims also state that the soldiers were not fired upon, and in fact no British soldier was hit by any bullet, nor were any bullets recovered after the fact.”  (Ireland, n.d.)  The film shares this claim and goes on to show that the soldiers were commended for their actions that day.  It almost feels for a second that the “mockumentary” is actual footage from the event.

Of course, this film is just that, a film.  The clever use of fading to black throughout the movie, especially in the beginning, gives the impression that the footage was shot by an amateur videographer.  Also, the camera during the press meetings, given by the civil rights group, is not positioned at the front where the actors can have their close up.  It is in the back or in the crowd where people’s heads block the speaker at moments.  For a second, you feel as if you are watching live coverage from 1972 of the event.  This technique is used throughout the whole movie and the camera never leaves the middle of the crowd, giving it that touch of reality.  The camera responded as a person as well.  For example, in one part of the movie when the march was already taking place, a participant pointed out the guards on the barriers above the walls.  The camera then focuses in on the soldiers, as if it were another civilian taking notice of the soldiers. Because of this, “mockumentary” does not really describe this film at all.  The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mockumentary as “a facetious or satirical work (as a film) presented in the style of a documentary.”  This film is quite the opposite.  It is a dramatic work shown in a documentary style.  Perhaps, “dramacumentary” is a better term to describe this movie.

Bloody Sunday is a film only portraying the director’s vision of what happened on January 30, 1972 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Looking over the facts, this portrayal is incredibly accurate considering the coverage discussed.  Soldiers reporting bombs and bullets but protesters saying only bottles and stones are thrown to show disapproval of the British army’s presence.  Two respected news sources credit these statements and swing in favor of the Irish Catholic side, most likely the correct side.  Hopefully, the Saville Inquiry, a commission started in 1998 to investigate the events of that infamous day, will settle any disputes still around today.  Daniel McKittrick (2010) describes that the report of the inquiry “will stretch to several million words” and the paper from it will be able “to fill a lorry.”  Former Minister of community relations in Ireland David Bleakley sums up the situation in Ireland up until today, “If the tragedy of Derry does not bring us to our senses, nothing will.  Unless we now make a united effort to save the province, we are all going to be destroyed together.”  (Weinraub, 1972)


Reference

Barnett, B., & Reynolds, A. (2009). Terrorism & the Press. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Hoggart, Simon (Feb. 1, 1972). Bogsiders insist that soldiers shot first.  The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/1972/feb/01/bloodysunday.northernireland

McKittrick, D. (Mar. 15, 2010). What really happened on Bloody Sunday? The Independent.  Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/what-really-happened-on-bloody-sunday-1921418.html

Mitchell, Elvis (Oct. 2, 2002).  Film Festival Reviews: Bloody Sunday in Londonderry.  New York Times.  Retrieved from http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C01E2DC1338F931A35753C1A9649C8B63

Weinraub, Bernard (Feb. 1, 1972). Ulster Catholics Protest Killings; Reprisals Vowed. New York Times.  Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/pqdweb?index=6&did=79172794&SrchMode=1&sid=3&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=HNP&TS=1266474418&clientId=25164

Ireland Information Guide (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.irelandinformationguide.com/Bloody_Sunday_%28Northern_Ireland_1972%29#The_perspectives_and_analyses_on_the_day

Mockumentary. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster online.  Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mockumentary