By Don Mullan 

Paramount Classics 
A squad of British paras await orders in a scene from "Bloody Sunday."

"Bloody Sunday" is a critically acclaimed, low-budget movie with a big impact. The film truthfully recounts the events of Sunday, January 30, 1972, a traumatic afternoon for my community in Derry, when British army paratroopers shot 27 people, 13 of whom died that day.


With a long string of critics' praise, "Bloody Sunday" was a strong candidate for an Oscar this year, but it stumbled on an Academy technicality.

The Paul Greengrass-directed feature was first screened in a theater in London in January 2002, and was then broadcast on television in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It then played in theaters there through last April, before arriving at screens here in the fall.

In order to be eligible, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, films first screened outside the United States cannot be shown publicly in any other medium for six months after the start of its theatrical run.

WGT Associate Editor Tom Madigan spoke with Don Mullan last December in Manhattan, shortly after the Academy Awards announced that it would not bend its rules and allow Academy electors to nominate "Bloody Sunday" for an Oscar.

Below is an excerpt from their conversation.

WGT: What level of influence, if any, do you see as having affected the decision to exclude Bloody Sunday from the Academy Awards? Do you suspect any high-level government pressure to suppress the film here?

Don Mullan: What I need to do is to find out ... who made the decision. I have no idea if there was political interference. Do people have political agendas? I just feel it's a disgrace in that a movie can be punished in this way, a movie that had gotten huge accolades, a movie that was, unquestionably, an expression of art at its highest level, where directors and producers went into a community who had suffered the experience and the trauma of Bloody Sunday, were able to engage that community, were able to get that community to trust them and buy into what they were trying to do. Then they were, conversely, able to get former British soldiers to come and play the part of the Paratroopers. So, really, what we have was, as part of this art form, a truly extraordinary mini-peace process, where people engage with one and other in a respectful way. That is something that the Academy should have been looking at and that is something that they should have been prepared to recognize as something that holds up the nobility of filmmaking at the highest level. And, therefore, to punish it for some obscure rule, go back to 1952, you do end up wondering, "Is there someone with an agenda?" (And) again, I have to say, "I am bewildered at the lack of support by Irish America." Again, I am conscious of people, like yourself and The Wildgeese, the others who were very supportive, who did turn out, who went and made the effort, gave their support ... and it may not be all Irish America's fault. It may be partly how Paramount handled it. It made the families in Derry very angry. -- WGT

Just a couple of days after this massacre, which brought a crushing end to Derry's Civil Rights Movement, the bereaved families had to endure another wound when the government of then-Prime Minister Edward Heath disseminated lies to the world media about the dead and wounded, suggesting that many were gunmen and bombers and alleged some were on the British army's wanted list. 

At the time, the families did not understand the power of the first sound-bite. But they soon learned.  

Audiences can experience for themselves the nature of the forces arrayed against those marching for civil rights that day.

Now, 30 years after the British army's 108 bullets tore through the heart of Derry's nationalist community, the families' epic struggle for truth has finally reached historic proportions. Mainly due to their determination, the British government's Saville Commission is underway, hearing from eyewitnesses, soldiers, police, the wounded, and government, army and police officials in a bid to uncover the truth. 

Not coincidentally, our film, "Bloody Sunday," has arrived in the United States, where audiences can experience for themselves the nature of the forces arrayed against those marching for civil rights that day.

My book, "Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth," came to the attention of two British filmmakers, Mark Redhead and Paul Greengrass, and inspired them to make this film. They invited me to be co-producer and, with the support and cooperation of the "Bloody Sunday" families and wounded, we set about making the first full-length feature film about that fateful day.

By Hollywood standards our budget was small ($4.3 million). However, despite the low budget our cast involved over 10,000 people. In Derry, upwards of 7,000 people volunteered in freezing cold and wet weather in February 2001 to help us recreate the original march for the purpose of the film.When the film was shown to the families and wounded in Derry earlier this year, at its conclusion, it was given a standing ovation. For the filmmakers, it was both a humbling and encouraging moment. Since then, the film's success, appeal and emotional impact has astounded all of us associated with the project. 

In Italy, for example, the demand was such that four screens soon grew to more than 60 across the nation, netting more than $1 million in box office sales! To date, the film has won eight international awards (Australia, Croatia, Germany, Israel, Portugal, France, Brazil, and the United States), including 'Best Picture Awards' at this year's prestigious Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival. It was selected for the New York Film Festival and now, under the direction of Paramount Classics, is appearing in a growing number of venues across the United States, Canada and worldwide.

Eventually 'Bloody Sunday' will be available in North America and elsewhere on video and DVD. However, its full impact can only be experienced in a theater.  

'Bloody Sunday' is one of the most important films to be made about the 'Troubles' in the last 30 years.

I genuinely believe that 'Bloody Sunday' is one of the most important films to be made about the 'Troubles' in the last 30 years. It explains how the British army's destruction of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement led directly to the ascendency of the bullet over the ballot. 

One critic has described our movie as "a pain-filled masterpiece," while WGT's reviewer, David Tereshchuk, also a witness to the actual events, called "Bloody Sunday "an agonizingly faithful evocation of that terrible day." What is important too is that it has been made by Irish and British people together. Those participating included families of the victims, the wounded, eyewitnesses to the massacre in 1972, and former British soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland. The making of the film was, in reality, "a mini-peace process." It has a very authentic feel about it. Everyone on its production worked with integrity to tell the truth about the horror and consequences of that terrible day.

The families are an inspiration to all who struggle for justice against powerful forces seeking to mask the truth.

Director Paul Greengrass, producer Mark Redhead and myself have dedicated "Bloody Sunday" to these families and all who seek truth, justice and accountability for human-rights abuses throughout the world.

 Please come to see this remarkable movie and encourage your families, relatives, friends and associates to see it, also. 

Derry native Don Mullan, co-producer of "Bloody Sunday," is author of "Eyewitness: Bloody Sunday: The Truth" (Wolfhound Press 1997), which became an important catalyst in the victims' families' successful campaign for the establishment of a new "Bloody Sunday" inquiry. A new edition was published to coincide with the North American launch of the movie, with a foreword by director Paul Greengrass.


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Tags: Arts, Freedom, Irish, Struggle


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