Doubleband’s new film Lost Lives gives testimony to some of the lives lost during the Troubles. Three and a half years in the making, the 90-minute film voices a balanced selection of entries from the 1696-page tome in an incredibly heartfelt tribute to those who died in the conflict.
The eponymous book is described by David McKittrick as “a monument to the sheer waste and horror of war” and documents over 3,600 lives. No longer in print, it took seven and a half years for the Independent’s Ireland correspondent to compile along with co-authors Brian Feeney, Seamus Kelters and Chris Thornton.
The film’s narration, provided by a range of Irish actors, is unhurried. Underneath their voices sit imagery of archive TV footage and newspaper reports of events and funerals, alongside superbly shot scenes from nature and decaying buildings.
The lives cut short have lost time, their families often seeming lost in a maelstrom of passing time. The use of slow motion footage and speeded-up time-lapse shots expresses this visually. Surging waves are suggestive of tears shed at deaths, while forests plant the idea of family walks with loved ones missing. The striking choral and orchestrated accompaniment (written by Neil Martin, Mark Gordon, Richard Hill and Charlie Graham) sits in a surround sound mix that deserves being heard in a cinema.
Many of the lives included are also lost in the sense that they are forgotten names, often from incidents that had no lasting profile in the general public consciousness. They became part of the blur of daily attrocities.
It is sometimes tempting – and often suggested by contributors to radio phone-in programmes – to move on from the Troubles, to draw a line and look forward, not back. For many of the people in the Lost Lives book, and for their families, it must feel like Northern Ireland has already done that. Yet in parallel with this forgetfulness, we still neglect to deal with many of the causes of division, deprivation and discrimination that continue to stir up dissonant actions in communities.
Two of the featured deaths include words from suicide notes, speaking from beyond the grave. Julie Statham’s death came just four weeks after the murder of her boyfriend and his father. Her grief-stricken words sum up the agonising loss felt by loved ones, and the ineffectiveness (or even absence) of bereavement counselling. It was all I could to not wail out loud. Another convicted terrorist who ended his own life belatedly reflects on what was lost when he pulled the trigger on a workmate.
As the film concludes, the narrative switches from individuals to the collective: the thousands of names scroll past, nearly too quickly, sorted by year into bunches of ten, laid out in seven columns. The scale of the Troubles is once again apparent. And the names don’t stop in the late 1990s or mid 2000s. They keep coming. Right up to the final gut-wrenching “2019 / Lyra McKee”.
Lost Lives is a beautiful film about a grim period of local history. The sober spoken words strike into your soul, and when they become too much, the visuals provide a brief escape before this imagery too starts speaking about the foreshortened lives and missed opportunities.
This is art, hung on a wide cinematic screen in a dark gallery that doubles as a cinema screen. It’s provocative, raw, touching, and melancholy. It’s a lamentation rather than a documentary.
It’s not over. But it should be. And it must be.
After a world première at the BFI London Film Festival on 10 October, Lost Lives will be released in Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 11 October. A Q&A with directors Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt will follow the 6pm screening on Saturday 12. The film will be screened in selected cinemas across the UK on Wednesday 23 October, and will be broadcast by BBC One NI next month.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.