Forgiveness as a kind of revenge: Launch of Beyond Walls documentary project
by Krisztina NAGY for Northern Ireland Foundation
3 December 2015
“For me forgiveness is a kind of revenge.” So said a participant in a film trailer screened by Beyond Walls publicly for the first time, at an event hosted by Ulster University, which was accompanied by a discussion with some of the project participants.
The event was opened by Professor Brandon Hamber (Director, INCORE), who explained that initially the project started as a series of dialogues, spanning 15 years.
He emphasised that the project has been an ongoing process. In the last couple of years fortunately the project received funds that helped to finance a series of workshops in several societies around the world. This was useful to learn from people living in other contexts.
The whole workshop material was then transcribed into hundreds and hundreds of pages. They also recorded interviews and saved survey information, resulting in a huge amount of material. Also part of the process was to work with filmmakers who documented the process; the trailer consists of these recordings.
Professor Hamber said the work was much more personal to them than a simple academic project.
Many of those working on the video see themselves as a part of the process so it was much of a journey for themselves as well. He added they have finished the initial part of the trailer, but now are looking for ways to turn it into a documentary film, and this is why the event was linked to a funding campaign. The documentary film would serve to deepen the learning by sharing it with others, complemented with educational resources.
After that, Wilhelm Verwoerd (South African based Co-Director, Beyond Walls) talked to the audience. He said people involved in violence and conflict have to face the costs on a very deep human level and eventually move away from that. With the video, they wanted to show the journey throughout the deep economic, emotional, social, political and spiritual divisions.
Workshops were held and interviews conducted in South Africa, Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland and Ireland. Mr Verwoerd argued that the idea behind the project was to look beyond the local conflicts, to look at what others experience in other parts of the world.
Working in the three countries and bringing people together to reflect has made them peacemakers, said Mr Verwoerd. Filmmaking wanted to capture not only the wisdom emerging from the process but we can actually see and feel how people are still struggling with the questions of humanisation. He explained that there are big differences in the three countries, but on the human level some of the stories would be able to break through them.
After that, the trailer was shown to the audience, followed by an interactive discussion led by Alistair Little (Co-Director, Beyond Walls), Mr Verwoerd and Professor Hamber, focusing on the learning from the project to date, in co-operation with three Northern Ireland participants of the video, two loyalist and one republican.
Beyond Walls trailer:
Filmed participants’ comments:
“In terms of people, what we see is a real sense of hopelessness. When people lack education, employment and aren’t been listened to, when communities are saturated with drugs and people are shot down, people become incredibly vulnerable to be drawn into a romantic narrative and manipulation. People need to understand there is nothing romantic and heroic about being involved in violence.”
“Tackling issues of education, lack of involvement in active citizenship and understanding of political decision-making, I think all those things have to happen in parallel to this narrative.”
“One thing that I’m uncomfortable with is the struggle for significance. A lot of people only focus on young people because they are the future. This segregates young people from older ones but I think we need to make this journey together. What really important is to make young people understand the value of older people and also to make older people understand the value of younger people.”
“It would be easier to say that it is the trouble makers in the communities who cause problems but this is not the case. Because of the lack of leadership in the communities young people can be easily used since they want to feel valued, special and significant and this is offered by different [violent] organisations. When asking young people not to be involved in these organisations, the difficulty is that there are people still recruiting young people in Northern Ireland and they give significance to them which they cannot find anywhere else.”
Another issue emerging from the discussion was how we allow women to participate in these conversations and work. Often in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, when we talk about war, violence and peace, that’s male territory and male work. The gatekeepers and politicians are men and the decisions are made by men.
A female participant explained, “For a female it’s difficult to be involved in this kind of work. Females are socialized to believe that what they say is not as valuable as a male’s opinion. Males tend to think, ‘You are not allowed into this room because you make me emotional’. Sometimes we just do! But it’s actually really needed! Because you recognise your emotional vulnerability and that can really change you completely.”