Coiste na n-Iarchimí
There are some startling statistics contained in 100,000 Years, the video produced by Coiste na n-Iarchimí, the co-ordinating body for the 20 or so ex-republican prisoner support groups in the Six and 26 Counties.
The first such statistic is the number contained within the title, representing the total number of years which 15,000 republicans have cumulatively spent in prisons in Ireland, England, the USA and various European countries between 1969 and 1999. The second is the figure of 20 years, the total number of years spent in prison by members of the Crown forces convicted of murder over the same period. In addition, unemployment figures amongst ex-prisoners are revealed and are equally appalling; around 75% in most areas and up to 81% in parts of Belfast.
100,000 Years also raises and begins to explore some of the problems encountered by ex-prisoners - and their partners and children - in their efforts to reintegrate into family life. Familiar faces such as Seanna Breathnach and Caral Ni Chuilin articulate very well the daunting task of reassuming responsibility for others after so long in prison. Inside, as Seanna Breathnach comments, one could, when things got difficult, retreat into the cell for time alone, a luxury not usually available to parents outside. Caral Ni Chuilin speaks about the often unarticulated hurt of children who have been deprived of a parent for reasons they do not fully understand and which can manifest itself years later in resentment and anger.
This documentary, written and directed by former prisoner and hunger-striker Lawrence McKeown together with Coiste na n-Iarchimi Project Manager, Mike Richie, also concentrates on more positive aspects of post-prison life. Encouragement is manifested in the success of self-help projects such as Tar Anall in Belfast and Tar Abhaile, the health and fitness suite in Derry now run as a viable company, offering solid employment opportunities. Its founders, including another hunger-striker, Ray McCartney, raised £60,000 to start it up.
This is, despite the depressing lists of figures, an essentially optimistic view of the possibilities of life after prison and the practical ways in which the psychological, social and economic difficulties of ex-prisoners are being tackled. It concentrates on the historical ability of the republican community throughout Ireland to support its prisoners (and their families), both in jail and today in the new, post-conflict situation.
100,000 Years is available from Coiste na n-Iarchimí, 10 Beechmount Avenue Belfast BT12 7NA (telephone +1232 200770, or 40-41 Lower Dominick Street, Dublin 1 (telephone +3531 8733199).
BY FERN LANE
Regrets, she's had a few
Me Myself I
Written and Directed by Pip Karmel
Rachel Griffiths, of Muriel's Wedding fame, stars in this hilarious Australian black comedy. A single, thirtysomething award-winning magazine journalist, Pamela Drury is nevertheless lonely and unhappy with her lot in life and wonders if it was all worth it. Should she have settled down with her boyfriend Robert Dickson, whose marriage proposal she turned down 13 years ago, and had the kids and the family instead of concentrating on her career?
Unlike most of us, who have to live with our regrets, Pamela gets to see what she has missed out on. Unexpectedly, she meets her exact double, the woman she would have been had she made the married with family choice and suddenly finds herself exchanging places and living that other life.
The humour lies in how she copes with her brand new family, who treat her as the mother and wife they have always had. Nobody else knows that the women's lives have been switched. Pamela strives frantically to maintain the illusion, as the realities, negative and positive, of the choices she never made are brought home with a bang.
This film relies heavily on Griffiths, who is on screen for the bulk of the movie, playing two roles, but this highly talented actress carries it all off magnificently. Yael Stone is wonderful as the strong-minded teenage daughter, Shaun Loseby is suitably obnoxious as the second-eldest, while third child Trent Sullivan, aged four, was, according to the production notes, thrilled to get the chance to ``do a fake wee and eat a lot of Twisties''. Another refreshing aspect is that this is an Australian comedy, thus a lot grittier and a lot less schmaltzy than your average American production.
Mature audiences will be rewarded for seeking out this gem.
BY MARTIN SPAIN