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.