Interview: Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey at 2011 Document 9 film festival
Director Leila Doolan's doc on radical Irish politican Bernadette Devlin
Leila Doolan's remarkable documentary Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey is one of the absolute highlights in Glasgow-based human rights film festival Document 9's very strong line up this year. The film follows the ideological and political trajectory of Irish radical Socialist Republican Bernadette Devlin. Pieced together from some amazing footage and a series of interviews Doolan filmed with Devlin over the last decade, the film is bold, illuminating, stirring and educational. Epithets made all the more amazing by the film's micro budget.
I spoke to Doolan in her Galway home early one morning before she went out on the campaign trail supporting another radical politician Michael D Higgins in local elections.
'I suppose the idea for this film started many years ago when I was a young TV director for Irish broadcaster RTE. I got involved in running a programme called 7 Days which was the station's political programme I suppose and I suddenly saw this young person and I thought, “Good heavens, what wisdom and clarity!” I suppose I've been watching what she has been doing ever since. And then when the peace process began and Bono was holding aloft the hand of John Hume and David Trimble, I thought: “Where's Bernadette? She's missing in this carry on, she should be at the centre of these discussions." So, a while later there was a concert being held in her honour in Galway, she came down with her husband, we were talking afterwards, we've been in contact over the years, and I asked how she would feel about a documentary, and pointed out that it wouldn't be about her private life but about her ideas.'
A long period of deliberation and research followed before Doolan secured funding from a Gaelic television station to complete the film. With the charity of like minded souls, Doolan was able to use footage from ABC, BBC and ITN archives and John Goldschmidt's brilliant 1969 film Bernadette Devlin alongside a series of candid and thought provoking modern interviews with Devlin. The result is a profound reminder of a time when radical politics were not only possible but a genuine game changer. But is Devlin, who has gone on record to oppose the making of a feature film about her life, happy with the film?
'You don't make a piece of work with a strong minded woman without having to argue some things through but this film is the result of our joined consent. She approves of the film, in fact at the Irish premiere of it, she chaired a discussion after it about engagement, activism and youth, it was a very good discussion.'
Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey is due to be screened on Irish television on the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday (30 January). 'Bernadette is she be a very private person. This film is a reflection of the action and work she has been involved in and her ideas. She only contributes to things like this if she thinks it is worth doing,' Doolan tells me, before she has to leave her house to wave another banner for another great radical politician.
Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey is showing as part of Document 9 at GFT, Glasgow at 12.15pm on Sat 22 Oct.