Mark Cousins: “In the middle of the joy, modernity and new tolerance that we have, we have to allow a bit of space to acknowledge that creature from the Black Lagoon, that sense of, ‘Wow, did we really do that? Were we that inhuman?’ Yes, we were.”

The Guardian’s eminent film critic Peter Bradshaw, briefly and favourably, reviews film-maker Mark Cousins’ “meditative tribute” to his hometown, “I am Belfast”- a “valuable, heartfelt tribute to a city”.

…there is much food for thought. He notes the fact that images of the Titanic, created at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard, are everywhere in the city since the movie, creating a veritable tourist icon. Cousins indirectly and interestingly suggests that the catastrophe of its sinking in 1912 may have fed, or even caused, a existential crisis that underpinned the Troubles. The country outside Belfast is stunningly beautiful (you’d never guess it from the nightly TV news), and Cousins takes his camera up to lovely Cave Hill, where Dickens walked and gunmen executed people. A valuable piece of work.

And the writer/director adds his thoughts on the portrayal of Belfast on film and TV at the Big G’s film blog.

If you didn’t laugh in Belfast in the 1970s, you’d cry. Gates around the city centre clanged shut every night. Tourists feared to tread. It was rubbish, but it was ours.

We didn’t only live there; we also saw it on TV and in movies. Film-makers were fascinated by us, by our intractable little war, our film-noir city. Just as you thought of yourself as a normal teenager, buying records and saving for a new jacket, you’d see a news programme with bodies of Belfast people in open coffins, and blackness would descend.

Culture Northern Ireland’s Matthew Coyle interviewed Mark Cousins last year.

Humanity, Cousins contends, ‘is full of warmth and coldness, violence and compassion. We’ve got a mix of all of that. We haven’t even hidden it very well, it’s right there on the surface. Belfast isn’t behind the door, it isn’t shy.’

In truth, that conclusion is all too familiar in Northern Ireland, a sad reality that Cousins decided to face rather than whitewash. At the centre of I Am Belfast is its notional guide, a 10,000-year-old woman (Helena Bereen), the city in human form, who wanders its avenues, soaking in its essence. She mourns the cruelties that her citizens wrought upon each other and for the residue of such pain.

Cousins acknowledges that to have avoided addressing the past seemed futile. ‘We just need to be honest with ourselves… We really have to admit that the Troubles were so recent that it’s still in our unconscious mind, a wound that is still healing. In fact, when you stop fighting, you are amazed at how bad things got.

‘We did terrible things,’ he continues. ‘It should bubble up, in our minds, in our hearts, in our sadness. In the middle of the joy, modernity and new tolerance that we have, we have to allow a bit of space to acknowledge that creature from the Black Lagoon, that sense of, “Wow, did we really do that? Were we that inhuman?” Yes, we were.’ [added emphasis]

Screened at last year’s Belfast Film Festival, it’s now on general release across the UK.  Here’s the original 2015 trailer.

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  • notimetoshine

    ‘It should bubble up, in our minds, in our hearts, in our sadness. In the middle of the joy, modernity and new tolerance that we have, we have to allow a bit of space to acknowledge that creature from the Black Lagoon, that sense of, “Wow, did we really do that? Were we that inhuman…’

    Far too much gazing backwards here, that’s part of the fundamental problem with our politics for instance. The joy, modernity and tolerance he refers to are being inhibited by that past and the inability (or more refusal?) Of certain people to forget and move on. My fear is that those who grew up post 98 are being constantly dragged back to the past, by those who have no future.

  • Croiteir

    Another pseud seeking to suck sustenance from misery.

  • John Claudius

    Have you seen it?

  • Croiteir

    I have read the post. Is there a radical difference

  • Croiteir

    You’re under no obligation to agree with anything posted here.

    But if you want to be able to continue to comment, you’re going to have to do better than that.

  • Granni Trixie

    How very unfair.

  • John Claudius

    Well its a bit like my daughter saying she doesn’t like something. I ask her has she tried it.If she has then fair enough and if not give it a go. So to answer your question: Yes.
    Go see it. You might like it, you may not. Then offer a critique.

  • Croiteir

    I can only comment in what is there to comment on. Otherwise this is nothing more than an advert.

  • John Claudius

    Fair enough but at least offer up an explanation of why you think the guy is a pseud based on the trailer/advert. You may be right. I haven’t seen the movie either or any of his other works

  • whatif1984true

    Too true,

  • babyface finlayson

    You did not back up either parts of your comment, namely that he is another pseud (who are the previous pseuds?) and that his goal is to seek “sustinence from misery.”
    Personally I don’t much like the look of the old woman of Belfast gazing sadly on the city, but I am a philistine and I am only judging by the trailer.
    As the trailer generally showcases the best bits and there were no helicopter chases that I could see, I am thinking it may not be for me.

  • aquifer

    Ireland is misery, all men in black and funerary rites posing as politics.

    Time to let the living live.

  • The movie’s release is a pretty big deal in the film world and Mark Cousins is a very, very big noise in those circles: he’s a credit to NI and like many people I can’t wait to see the movie (missed it last year).

    I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised and even a bit disappointed if the movie spends too long dwelling on our troubled past – I don’t see that there’d be any great appetite from the film-maker or the audience (especially in NI) to do so. Then again, I thought the same about ’71 before I was thankfully convinced to watch it, and I trust Mark Cousins’ judgement, so I’m very glad to get a chance to see it soon.

  • whatif1984true

    For those who think the world is waiting for this film . They can check if they are right at http://www.bfi.org.uk/education-research/film-industry-statistics-research/weekend-box-office-figures It will give the first week takings of this film and how many cinemas are screening it.

  • Presumably it won’t make too much of a dent on paper in the grand scheme of things since I’d imagine it is being released through independent cinemas.

    I’d previously described the release as a pretty big deal but I thought it went without saying that it is mainly a pretty big deal to a certain type of movie fan and cinema.

    I think we should be celebrating a homegrown, well-respected director making a movie about Belfast – regardless of how it does at the box office.

  • mickfealty

    I’m surprised at you Croiteir. Never had you down for a cold philistine.

  • No offence, but that’s entirely irrelevant.

    What Mark Cousins is talking about is self-knowledge – as an individual human being, and as a society.

    It’s not about forgetting and moving on, it’s about acknowledging and moving forward.

    “My fear is that those who grew up post 98 are being constantly dragged back to the past, by those who have no future.”

    Those who grew up post 98 here have more to learn than most.

  • “I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised and even a bit disappointed if the movie spends too long dwelling on our troubled past”

    You could be wrong. But this wasn’t a review of the film. I used the opportunity of the general UK release to highlight something of interest from a previous interview with Mark Cousins relating to the film.

  • Do you understand how irrelevant your professed concerns about takings are to this post?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    no surprises there

  • Aware of that – I was talking about the film as opposed to the post.

  • Croiteir

    If you want to restrict me just do it

  • Croiteir

    I am not impressed. The piece reads like a 4th year English literature student trying to impress teacher. Look at that guff about creature from black lagoon and if you didn’t lah you would cry. Clichéd to death commentary just turns me off. The darkness descends alright. It takes me back to old Sam McCliche aka McAughtry beloved by middle class pretentiousness as he told tales of old Belfawst to the delight of the squeemish old biddies tittering and sqeaking about how awful he was. Can we not escape from this keek masquerading as social comment or shall it always be with us like the poor.

    What is it about the latte lapper that makes them like this tripe. A classic example is Stones in their pockets by Marie Jones. Not a cliché missed in that masterpiece.

  • Croiteir

    I could say that would explain why I am being assaulted by the jawbone of assessment but I am above that too

  • whatif1984true

    ‘Well Respected’ to you maybe. His view of Belfast is his, not everyone’s. I have heard him speak and do not wish to do so again, just my opinion. He is a Pseud, yes the emperor has no clothes. Of course you can disagree if you think his film is in anyway original. Can he hold a candle to the Bill Douglas Trilogy or to Terence Davies.

  • whatif1984true

    How many are there of “a certain type of movie fan” is my query. We will find out soon. Rehashing footage and “mother belfast’ is not excellence. Which other movies do you think this outshines, that might be a better measure of its value in your eyes and doesn’t involve bums on seats. The people who don’t see the film are unfortunates are they not?

  • Point taken and well made – appreciate the clarification.

  • mickfealty

    If we strip out all the man playing in the forgoing, what’s your actual objection to the piece?

  • Croiteir

    As I said – pretentious nonsense that so often passes for good writing.
    If you wish to see an example of good witty and incisive social commentary Rat by Ian Pattison would be an examplar.

  • whatif1984true

    In weekend 22/24 April in all UK cinemas I AM BELFAST was the
    81st position in all cinemas by weekend takings. (22/24 = £649)

    This was its 3rd week of release and was screened in 3 cinemas. Total takings since opening was £25,240.

    This is a footnote on how the film going audience (including ART House Cinema audiences) responded to the film in monetary terms.

    To quote a poster here “The movie’s release is a pretty big deal in the film world and Mark Cousins is a very, very big noise in those circles” The circles are pretty small is my point.

    Further details at http://www.bfi.org.uk/education-research/film-industry-statistics-research/weekend-box-office-figures