Bloody Sunday Movie Reflection

The movie “Bloody Sunday” was a ‘mockumentary’ (fiction-documentary) film depicting the events of January 30, 1972. In the film, British Paramilitary troops attack civilians participating in a march for civil rights in the Northern Ireland town of Londonderry. The film was written and directed by a Paul Greengrass. “John Kelly, whose brother was shot and killed in the incident, said he (Mr. Greengrass) consulted many families who were present there on that day. The families trusted the film makers to ‘tell the truth.’ We already know the truth. Our people’s right to life was taken by the British military.” Mr. Kelly also added that he “believed they will portray the film as it should be portrayed. Paul Greengrass and Mark Redhead (the producer) are people of integrity” (BBC News). This leads to discussing how Mr. Greengrass was able to re-create the events of Bloody Sunday and certain film techniques he used to give the film its documentary feel.

In one of the first scenes of the film, Gerry Donaghy, a young Irish Catholic boy is shown kissing his girlfriend on the couch as they both appear to be babysitting a young child. The two are happy and right away we start to build a connection with some the characters. This is a trend that continues to build throughout the movie as Mr. Greengrass presents a heavily weighted picture from the perspective of the civilians participating in the march. As the movie continues, one of the big and most consistent aspects of the film is the fading-outs as there is a switch from scene-to-scene (perspective-to-perspective). The panning in-and-out presents fragmented glimpses, like jaggerd-shards of action, as the film begins to switch from one perspective to another (CineScene.com).
Another way Mr. Greengrass attempts to give the film its documentary feel is by using natural sound effects. Mr. Greengrass avoids the use of any background music until the credentials are played in the end when he finally uses a song titled “Bloody Sunday” by U2. Instead of instrumentals, the crackling of army radio’s, telephone rings, sirens, footsteps, and background voices are what is heard. This is what is considered normal as day-to-day life does not consist of harmonious rhythms as we walk. Similarly, positioning of the cameras, types of cameras, and the focusing of faces as people interact also provide a documentary feel. For example, in one scene, the local superintendent comes to headquarters to speak to the major in charge. The camera at the time is located outside the office roughly 10-15 feet away from the men speaking. The superintendent speaks to both the major and the visiting Colonel. He says he has spoken to organizers of the Civil Rights March and “they’re anxious to avoid confrontation. They are not going to march to Guildhall rather stay within the bogside” (Greengrass). As the Colonel gets ready to leave he smugly remarks “it is so useful to have contacts within the community.” The Colonel leaves the room with another military professional and just as they disappear from the camera you can hear the Colonel mention to the other “he’s a Roman Catholic of course.” The camera then zooms back into the room and does a close up to the superintendent and the major where we then can hear the two having a conversation.

Subtle actions such as the aforementioned are the reason why Mr. Greengrass was able to create a film with such in-your-face, you-are-there impression. Other subtleties which helped sell the mockumentary were the close up views of peoples’ faces, the half-heard dialogue that persists throughout the entire film, the camera angles and styles which the movie was shot, and the brutality in which some of the murders took place. Although the film is presented in a documentary fashion, it does not report of the events of Bloody Sunday evenly.

The majority of the film is presented from the view of Civil Rights activists (as previously mentioned, Mr. Greengrass consulted many families who were present on Bloody Sunday). The film casts the British paramilitary troops in a particularly negative light, highlighting many scenes where the paramilitary refer the young boys as “players” and “hooligans,” claiming they “are going to teach these fuckers a lesson.” Other language the British is captured using are “using maximum aggression towards the players,” “shoot back plenty of rounds,” “let’s show them what the para are made of,” and “winning the propaganda war.” This harsh tone by the British paramilitary is contrasted to the polite and gentle tone of the Civil Rights activists.

For example, throughout the film, march organizers and various key characters refer to having a “peaceful march,” “display a peaceful demonstration of democracy,” and “wanting to march for Civil Rights.” This language closely parallels the language of the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Even in the film, people are comparing Ivan Cooper (member of parliament leading the Civil Rights march) to Dr. Martin Luther King. This portrayal of good vs. evil is not objective, it is never meant to tell both sides of the stories. Rather it was designed to present a side of the story that is commonly accepted among many people in Northern Ireland.

Something interesting I found from our textbook in regards to media, the IRA, and the British specifically is the British response to introduction of the Republican News (a weekly publication in Dublin established by the IRA). During 1988-1994, the British Government imposed a broadcasting ban on the publication and included restrictions on people, or groups who could be interview by British Television (Barnett and Reynolds). Barnett and Reynolds go on to mention difference between U.S. media ad U.K. Media citing the BBC as “more straightforward,” “that they are willing to be more critical of the Government than the U.S.” Looking back at these events and exercising my due diligence, I did not find any articles on the BBC or the Guardian mentioning the restrictions or ban. How do the organizations (or country) allow censorship to take place if the media is so objective?

In conclusion, Mr. Greengrass created a film that merged fiction and documentary into one, now known as a mockumentary. He used many creative ways to provide the audience with a life-like feeling. He presented a story with characters which many of us are able to connect to. The film blames the British Paramilitary troops for the tragedy that occurred that day, and painted the people of Northern Ireland as victims of a massacre.