Reframing our space: ‘I am Belfast’
by Eilish BOSCHERT for Northern Ireland Foundation
9 February 2017
Hosted by the 5th annual Four Corners Festival, the poetic art film I am Belfast was showcased on Thursday evening at the historic First Presbyterian Church located in the heart of Belfast city centre.
Directed and written by Belfast native Mark Cousins, the film takes its audience on a chronological and geographical exploration of Belfast city, guided by a 10,000 year old woman: Belfast personified.
Belfast, portrayed by Helena Bereen, accompanies the narrator, a disembodied prodigal son, on his reintroduction to the Northern Irish capital.
Beginning with majestic landscapes, I am Belfast transitions slowly and seamlessly into familiar cityscapes, highlighting once-grandiose, now-derelict buildings as representations of the brokenness and abandonment of the city.
Belfast asks, “I was beautiful once, but I became ugly. Can you guess what made me ugly?”
The film encourages its audience to look at the ‘ugliness’ of the city with new eyes, finding beauty, potential, and colour in the urban sprawl.
Descending from that optimistic view into the darkness of conflict, ‘Belfast’ reflects on the taboo of the Troubles, poignantly stating, “And then, like a tracking shot the iceberg hit. Is now a good time to talk about it? Is it ever?”
While it does not shy away from Belfast’s conflicted history, the past is not the film’s main focus. As ‘Belfast’ encourages us: “Don’t just look… imagine…”
While Belfast has been fundamentally defined by conflict, Cousins attempts to redirect our perceptions by exhibiting the humanity and complexities of the city and presenting the Troubles as an element to the overarching story of the city.
Executive Producer, Glenn Leyburn, answered questions following the film and discussed the importance of art’s role in reframing or reimagining spaces that are defined by their histories of conflict.
I am Belfast presents the city as a single entity when it is often, and in many ways considered fractured, by its inhabitants as well as outsiders.
The festival’s theme, “Our Wounded and Wonderful City”, fit nicely into Cousins’ depiction of modern-day Belfast—showcasing the city as a place much older and more complex than its violent past.
Leyburn discussed the idea of “indigenous filmmaking”—the significance of local people depicting their own towns, histories, and personal narratives.
Even the film itself reflected on this notion of dealing with the past, comparing trauma to “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”—an entity that has been submerged for years, like a nightmare.
But as ‘Belfast’ wisely informs us: “Things that are held down come up again.”
Mark Cousins’ artistic narrative through Belfast’s past, present, and future allows the audience to confront their perceptions of the city and encourages us to reconsider and reimagine.