A new film looking at the events leading up to and including the Ballymurphy Massacre is having preview screenings across Ireland and Britain in advance of a wider release.
The Ballymurphy Precedent tells the story of three days in Ballymurphy in August 1971 when 11 innocent Catholics lost their lives at the hands of the British Army’s murderous Parachute Regiment.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Callum Macrae, the film tells the story of the murders, which took place as internment was being introduced, as well as the fight by relatives and survivors of the massacre to get justice.
An inquest into the deaths, including those of a parish priest and a mother-of-eight, is to begin next month. However, there is continuing resistance by the British government, which refuses to fund legacy inquests. A march commemorating those who died took place in west Belfast last week.
Director Callum Macrae, said: “I first heard of the Ballymurphy Massacre three years ago. I was in Belfast showing my last film No Fire Zone when I became aware of the massacre, and through West Belfast filmmaker Sean Murray I was introduced to the family members.
“The more I spoke to the people who were there at the time, including the survivors and the relatives, many of whom were then still children, the clearer it became that there was even more to this story than the tragedy of these appalling killings.
“I came to realise that understanding what happened over those three days is actually central to understanding what happened over the next 30 years. So as well as being an investigation of those killings, my film is about the catastrophic military and political strategy which led to them - and the decades of bloody violence which followed.”
The two-hour film includes emotional testimonies from family members, footage from the time as well as interviews from former soldiers.
Describing his film, Mr Macrae said: “I didn’t want this to be either a political polemic or simply an investigation of the facts. This is a very human story. It is about the experiences of the ordinary people and in particular the women of Ballymurphy as they lived through the early, traumatic, period of what was to become a 30 year war. It is the story of the bereaved families’ courage and their determination to get to the truth.
“But this story also calls into question the conventional history of the troubles and demands a re-examination of Britain’s role in the creation of 30 years of war in Northern Ireland. The truth about the killings in Ballymurphy leaves British claims that Bloody Sunday was an isolated incident looking completely implausible. It also, in my view, renders unsustainable the conclusion of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that the British Government and Ministry of Defence could not be held responsible for those deaths in Derry, five months later.
“As Richard Rudkin, one of the British soldiers who appears in the film, says: ‘If steps had been taken to look at what happened in Ballymurphy, admit what had gone wrong, Bloody Sunday would never have occurred, and if Bloody Sunday would never have occurred, I would suggest many more deaths after that would never have occurred.”
Mr Macrae visited Ballymurphy to hear the victims’ individual stories told through their family members and to sift through hundreds of documents from the period.
Speaking about the family members he said: “In the whole process of putting this film together, the most overwhelming experience for me is the dignity of these family members.
“They are the most extraordinarily strong, dignified, decent people I’ve met. I have come to be good friends with them and I’ve come to like them very much. I’ve been constantly impressed by their courage, dignity and determination.”
To recreate the shocking events of 1971, Callum and his team developed unique visual strategies to show reconstructions of the massacre.
He said: “Unlike on Bloody Sunday, five months later, there were no cameras in Ballymurphy to record the shootings. Indeed that is partly why to this day so few people even know of the massacre - and also why the [British] army’s official version of events, that the victims were armed, hard-core IRA members, has still never been officially challenged.
“So we had to create our own images to show what happened. We had to develop a way of showing this massacre in a way that did not sanitise it, that really conveyed the appalling, senseless violence of these deaths, but remained at the same time respectful, and devoid of gratuitous imagery.
“Equally important was the need to show what happened and where it happened, in an accurate way. To do this we developed a new and innovative technique using a combination of drone imagery, live action and a CGI recreation of the locality of the killings, based on maps, plans and photographs of the area from the time.”
Last month Callum invited 120 family members and friends to a private screening of The Ballymurphy Precedent in Corpus Christi Church in the heart of Ballymurphy for what was a highly emotional event.
He said: “That was quite a nerve-wrecking experience for me as a director. The families had trusted me with their stories and I therefore had an obligation to get it right. We had to be respectful of the dead and respectful of the feelings of the relatives and survivors.
“There is no doubt it was a very difficult film for the families to watch. There were many tears, but some laughter too. This was a portrait of a war in a small town and there were moments of humour even in those dark times.
“As the film came to an end, there was a pause and then everyone stood and gave the film a standing ovation. It was a very moving event - but I hope it was a significant one. The families and survivors are engaged on a search for truth and justice, which is painful, but vitally important. A search which could help remove a significant block on the road to truth and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I hope the film will help in that search.
“As Breige Voyle, whose mother Joan was shot dead on the first day of the killings, says in the film: ‘The truth needs to be told. That is the only way that you can draw a line under the past. Tell the truth.”
Visit www.theballymurphyprecedent.com or www.facebook.com/theballymurphyprecedent for more information and dates of screenings.