A History of a land without a country

The Basques; whether you believe them to be part of a region of another country, or, as some do, to be a country within a country, certainly have a unique identity. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, seeing Basque flags in republican areas, this strange banner which, to you appears like a union jack with different colours, certainly does make an impression on you. This particular reviewer has had an admittedly bizarre fascination with this strange land for many years which, in turn, lead to a fascination with Spanish history, particularly the Spanish civil war and the parallels with the Irish civil war a decade earlier.

This particular reviewer also became aware of the unfortunate and morbid parallels of the Basque Country and ETA’s terrorist war with the Spanish government and the history of “the troubles”. Originally this book had been purchased prior to a trip to that self same disputed piece of land, and having leant it to someone who did not return it, only recently became reacquainted with this excellent book when it was given by a friend as a birthday present.

The Basque History of the World tends to, for the most part, stay away from the modern day conflict and the hard edged subject of ETA’s campaign against what it might see as it’s Spanish oppressors. And indeed it is all the better for this. Instead the book looks at the impact that Basques, both collectively and individually has had on the world. The areas covered tend to vary from the fishermen who it is claimed discovered America long before Columbus to the saint who the Basques can claim as their very own; namely the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius de Loyola, to symbols which are important to the Basques including the ancient symbol of the old oak tree which lies in the middle of the town of Guernica. Indeed it was no coincidence that Franco chose the town of Guernica to unleash the horror of, the Luftwafe bombing.

The book stretches back at various points throughout to the earliest evidence given to the existence of the Basque, with reference to the ancient laws known as the Fueros, which most Irish people can draw parallels with the Brehon laws. Without getting into much detail about the laws themselves Mark Kurlansky pinpoints this as the moment that Basques lost their autonomy and, despite gaining control over them to various degrees thoughout history, have never fully gained autonomy like they had during this time.

One of the more interesting aspects of the the book states that during the negotiations when setting up Spain’s most recent constitutional Congress every province in Spain was granted two negotiators, save for Catalonia and The Basques, perhaps sewing the seeds of more recent disputes in both areas.

For the most part quirky and light-hearted throughout, The Basque History of the World is a fascinating and informative read that both entertains and informs from cover to cover. There are even a few recipes to try out from a proud tradition of Basque cookery. Despite having been published more than twenty years ago and some of the more political aspects of the book being now outdated, The Basque History of the World is still an important piece of text and this magical and curious piece of land.

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The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid

This documentary by Feargal Ward has been shown on the Irish film festival circuit for a while now and had it’s television debut on RTÉ 1 last night. It tells the story of Thomas Reid, a Kildare farmer who is approached by the IDA to sell his land so that the American microchip company intel can expand it’s influence in the area. We meet Feargal, siting in his century old farmhouse which has been passed down to him by his family, he is surrounded by newspapers which are sure to go back thirty years or more, to say that he is a hoarder would be an understatement. The carpet, the furniture and décor look of a similar vintage, in short Thomas and his surroundings have seen better days. Thomas however seems proud that he has managed to keep things going for as long as he has, he is a hoarder and is presented as a bit of a hermit, indicated by no means least by the film’s title.

There is a quiet, slow pace to the documentary and the only contact that Thomas seems to have with the outside world, apart from the IDA officials who call to his farm persistently in the hope that he’ll relent, are the people he meets at his local supermarket. The pace of the production, the isolation that our protagonist feels is, in turn felt by the viewer as he is increasingly left to his own devices. Only through the odd interaction with the film makers does the viewer know that Thomas Reid is not totally alone.

At the same time Feargal Ward does not play this as a pure straight forward documentary with obscure, almost surreal courtroom interactions played out in the fields surrounding Thomas’ farm, this makes the proceedings a little bit out of the ordinary and gets the audiences attention, in no way distracting from the narrative.

There is a still, quiet atmosphere throughout the documentary, thus emphasising the isolation and loneliness felt by Thomas Reid, which is only compounded by his treatment by the authorities. This narrative tool aids the director in winning over the audience to Thomas’ plight all the more.

Every so often there is nondiegetic radio footage of Thomas’s case as presented on The Pat Kenny Show, and it works as a narrative tool. It provides just enough information for the audience, who perhaps do not know about the case fully, without the need of a voiceover style commentary.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is a heart warming, life affirming David v Goliath tale that draws the audience into Thomas Reid’s world and wills him on quietly and modestly until it’s conclusion. A must watch.

Diego Maradonna

It was the summer of ’86 and this particular reviewer sat down in the box room of the family home to watch the final of that year’s world cup on the tiny portable colour TV that was the norm then. I was just getting into football and my father, (who normally hates football), to his credit watched along with me.

These were the days before you could watch the world’s best players on pay per view networks and even before you seeing them play every week in the Champions League seemed like second nature.

Maradona is the third in a trilogy of celebrity documentaries following the award winning Senna and Amy. Although to call it a trilogy seems a bit of a stretch considering none of the subjects are connected in any apparent way.

Maradona starts more like a gangster movie with a car chase through the streets of Naples. This is the birth of a superstar. The highly talented but as yet relatively unknown Diego Armando Maradona has just signed for a then world record fee of just under £7 míllion having already set a new world record fee of £5 million. What we came to know as the brash outlandish Maradona didn’t exist then, instead what the audience sees is something more akin to a rabbit caught in headlights in front of the cameras at a hastily arranged and secretive press conference held in what resembles an underground bunker.

Seeing this shy bewildered version of Diego, as his personal trainer comments there are two versions of the one man, there is Diego, the shy, quiet, bewildered child of the back streets of Buenos Aires, and then there is Maradona, the bullish competitive, gifted athlete who is willing to do whatever it takes to win.

To understand Maradona you have to understand the club with which he became most famous. Napoli, a club routed in the south of Italy was, at the time of signing Maradona, one of the poorest clubs in one of the richest leagues in the world. Having never before won the Italian championship and having only ever won the Copa Italia twice before Maradona joined the team.

As the film progresses you see the disappearance of one version of the iconic 80’s player and the emergence of another. His skill on the pitch there for everyone to see. Interlaced in between Maradona’s successes the viewer is introduced to his family, Diego being the first boy among six children, his father Don Diego and his mother Dolma who, like any other mother dotes upon her son.

Maradona’s infamous downfall is never far away however. For years even when he was with Barcelona there were rumours of Maradona’s drug taking. With his move to Napoli however it grew when he was taken under the wing of the local mafia boss. Maradona himself perhaps knew this when he pleaded with the owners of Napoli to sell him, but they refused. In fact at one point the owner of Napoli declares solemnly, “I was Maradona’s jailer’ It is testimony to how much the star had become thought of by the Napoli fans that his downfall came the way it did. On the eve of a world cup semi-final against hosts Italy, due to be played at Napoli’s home ground, the Stadio San Paolo, Maradona urges locals to support Argentina because the rest of Italy does not think of them as Italians. The backlash is enormous.

Fans of all teams tart displaying banners baring the words, ‘Maradona is the devil’, his club Napoli, having basically forced him to stay, shun him. Most importantly of all the loses the support of the cities crime bosses and soon his past comes back to haunt him.

Diego Maradona does not seek to glorify nor vilify the former Argentine footballing hero, it merely lays bare, often with commentary provided by Maradona himself, the ups and downs of a sporting icon with a shadowy life. What results is truly captivating.

Liam Gallagher: As it was. Liam does it his way

IT was September 2002. The summer had ended but there was still cause for many in Derry, Northern Ireland to celebrate. Oasis, the band who had defined a generation were due to play in Prehen playing fields that sunny September. Oasis, together with a number of bands that formed the “Britpop” phenominon burst onto the music scene like a breath of fresh air in the mid nineteen ninties amid a deluge of dance music. For many this was an event like no other; Derry having been starved of the big acts that came regularly to little brother Belfast.

There were rumours that notorious hell raiser and frontman Liam Gallagher would not show up, having walked off stage during previous shows. It was a tad ironic therefore that As It Was opens with brother Noel quitting the band just seven years later in the summer of 2009.

According to director Gavin Fitzgerald, in a recent interview given for Hotpress magazine Noel blocked any attempts to use recorded material from Oasis days and several parts had to be reshot, so if it is a nostalgiafest you’re expecting Oasis fans then forget about it.

Instead what you get is a look at the man behind the myth of Liam Gallagher, indeed you would have to question the wisdom of the elder brother Gallagher in not co-operating at all. What you get as a result is the story of a man abandoned by a brother he loved and trusted, leaving Liam to pick up the pieces and start again. What Fitzgerald shows the audience in many ways is ‘Liam Gallagher Unplugged’, Liam Gallagher with a new love interest, who also manages him; in every way you could imagine, Liam Gallagher the father, Liam Gallagher the son.

As the view you follow Liam along his path geographically, spiritually, geographically, spiritually, emotionally. As you do you see the rise of the superstar of old. The swagger, the attitude, but somehow with a (slightly) someone who has come to realise (in his own words) that he was a d**kh**d. As another band in the form of Beady Eye comes and goes Liam finds himself alone again Determined not to give up he gathers together a new group of musicians and takes to the recording studio.

Upon completion Liam takes a break in his mother’s native Co. Mayo where a chance snap of a camera phone shows the wonder waller playing guitar in a local pub. This is the catalyst which helps spur Gallagher on. Tour date after tour date sees the former Oasis frontman slowly but surely win back his popularity as well as fans who weren’t even born during the height of Oasis’ fame. It is during this period that the audience is surely left wondering if Gallagher’s new band can’t believe their luck in getting to play old Oasis standards, although again this is only speculation as all evidence of Gallagher’s previous incarnation are erased. From Rome to San Francisco and back again with headlining Glastonbury and the promise of a new album on the horizon, it seems that things are looking up for the former 90’s hell raiser.

Then as the saying goes, ‘events dear boy, events’. The tragedy of the Manchester arena takes place, leading to one of the most poignant moments of the whole documentary. Liam, as ever the proud Mancunian cancels everything else to take part in the Love Manchester gig. Perhaps this is the moment for a reuniting of the brothers, but only one brother turns up. This one moment, more than any other illustrates just how much being from Manchester and the people from there mean to Liam, and how much he means to them.

Interspersed with moments of Liam making his musical comeback are moments captured with his mother Peggy, his son’s from his previous two relationships, Lennon and Gene, as well as what Liam calls the inspiration behind his current success, a recognition perhaps that he is not quite a solo artist, his manager and current love interest Debbie Gwyther. She is everywhere that Liam is and seems to have a calming and reassuring influence. In fact if anyone is responsible for keeping it together on his comeback it’s Gwyther.

What the film shows is a volatile rock star become slowly but surely more mellow with an edge of ever present volatility kept for his brother. Noel hangs like a ghost over the entire piece, not only for reasons already stated but for the simple reason that, as stated, “Liam can’t do without Noel, but Noel can’t do without Liam”. Like some sort of Jackyl and Hyde pairing. As a piece of modern rock biography, As It Was is worth watching alone, but is it actually a good documentary. Well, definitely; maybe!

Anneliese Gregg Exhibition opening

Anneliese Gregg reflects the characters she paints, full of colour, vibrancy and emotion. She has lived a life of adventure many of us can only dream of; having lived in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for 8 years, has taught art in Brixton prison, lived in Scotland then went to build an olive farmhouse in Catalonia with her family and more recently earned a living barking trees in the Forest of Dean, all while raising a family !

Upon returning home to her native Derry she took up painting full time and having exhibited her work at various venues throughout the city Anneliese Gregg returns to the Warehouse Gallery with her latest collection.

Her work varies in character from sombre to spectacular painting her subjects such as Charlie, Drummer and Fazzed. In each case the subject of Gregg’s paintings tug you emotionally one way and another, from one extreme to another. What this work has in common; whether the subject be famous or obscure, alive or dead, rich or poor, is gather up all the experiences that Anneliese Gregg has had, in all the places she’s lived and the lives she’s touched and placed them on the page or canvas in the form of colour.

This is an exhibition that leads the viewer on a journey of colour that leaves you intrigued and exillarated, exasperated and excited. This an exhibition full of colour and character befitting of it’s creater and is not to be missed. The Anneliese Gregg collection is on display at the Warehouse Gallery, Derry until 6th July.

Future film talent gets its chance to shine at Brunswick Cinebowl

Local budding cinematic talent was on display this afternoon (Monday) as the BSc in Cinematic Arts final year students at University of Ulster”s Magee campus in Derry showed their work to an enthusiastic audience at the city’s Brunswick Cinebowl.
Now in it’s third year, the annual end of year show put on display a number of technically accomplished pieces from across nearly every genre.
This wasn’t your usual cluncky, rusty obviously amateurish work we’re talking about but some of the best work to be seen at any showcase and any festival; and the good news is that the best is yet to come from this fantastic group of students.

In all there were ten shorts screened on the day.
First up was Stanza with cinematography by Conor Shearer. This was a scenic tour de force with rugid landscapes of wild growing fields amd stormy seas, making the most of local coastal scenery.

Un Amour en Marcaeaux , directed by Tiarnan Hatchell, sees two ex-lovers meeting up again after some time apart. The two reminice about old times and contemplate getting back together. Shot entirely in black and white and with a sound quality reminiscent of continental classics, this is a film with lotsa of potential for more.

The Weeping in the Woods by Jason Reilly is a haunting tale of an isolated Knight making his way through a forest, he is haunted by the spirits in the woods who torment and hound him. 

Male Condition, directed by David McIntyre is a filmatic scream for help for mankind, cuting together image after image of man’s struggle to define itself. The imagery used in this film is as powerful as any seen. With a voice crying out from the screen, “existance remains frail” “ask them to apologise for a past they did not commit”. The film is a cry which every man can identify with, screaming in a load and terrifying voice.

With Sophie Donnelly directing and Ella Mc Daid producing Hurt to Hope is a heart felt documentary about the work of Foyle Women’s Aid directed by Sinead Donnelly. This is a well made documentary espoicing the often undervalued and overlooked work by Foyle Women’s Aid. Without sensation or sentimentality it details the experiences of those who use this vital community resource and is sure to attract much needed attention to this vital resource.

Good Mournin’ produced by Shannon Noble and directed by Peter Shiels begins with an opening sequence of Margaret Thatcher juxtoposed with scenes of torture and graphic footage of a figure tied to a chair, blood dripping from the mouth which, although not gratuatous are reminoisncent of scenese from a Luis Bunuel film. The narrative involves a couple from a mixed background, the girl has brough her boyfriend home to meet her mother, the narrative subtly displays how one slight slip, one unguarded comment gives the game away.

In Losing Your Way , edited by Ruari Campbell, the audience sees Michael, an everyday twenty one year old given a birthday surprise by his friends, in time he indeed looses his way and descendes into a drug habit which his girlfriend struggles to get him off. In time, with his life spiralling out of control and his girlfriend ready to give up on him he eventually sees the light. This is a well made social commentary on the damage that can and quite often is doing in many of the communities that these students are living in.


Slayer is one for all the Game of Thrones fans out there, a medievil drama where the hereoin has to fight ghouls and villain in order to saver her brother from the dragons layer. With no expense obviously spared in the costume and props department this is a well made medieval drame that is bound to please even the most unenthusiastic Game of Thrones fan.


Lost Memories, directed by Conor Barrow, is a story which no doubt many can relate to. An elderly woman sits by a window on her own, with noone to talk to. After she wanders out into the garden, a stumble and a fall, she is heloed by what at first hand seems like a care worker, but is in fact her daughter. The daughter it would seem is being left on her own to look after the mother. As the narrative progresses we discover that the mother was once a talented photogrpher and encouraged her children to take up the same passtime. However since the death of her husband the woman has begun to loose hope. In time we find out that the daughter is the only one saving the mother from going into care. Under preasure from her brother, the daughter can’t cope on her own and eventually the inevitable choice is faced with. Lost Memories is a strong social conscience message driven film. It teaches us that behind every old and frail person who has lost their way there is still a human being and it is difficult to know how to cope when you find yourself in this sort of situation; there are no easy answers.


The final screening on offer at the event was a comedy western by the title of Fun Times in Sinister Pines, directed and produced by Benjamin Porter and Caolan Brolly, a fun, well shot comedy which sees Argyle Magee, Stabi McStab Face, Goldilocks and several other sinister characters battle it out for control of the west. It was a perfect ending to the afternoon and everyone left with a smile on their face.

Of course no film event could take place without an awards ceremony and this was no exception. Winning a prize for his poiniant drama about an elderly women with dementia and her daughter’s struggles to take care of her was Conor Barrow, a fitting winner.

Anyone reading this cannot begin to imagine just how high the standard was at this event and it can only be hoped that these graduates can go on and be successful in their future endevours. Culture Journal Ireland looks forward to being invited to view future work by several members of this class in the near future and believes that screen talent coming out of the North West of Ireland is capable of mixing with the best out there. Students can be assured that if you ever need the spotlight shone on your future projects Culture Journal Ireland will be there to do it.

 

 

 

 

Derry turns Japanese

A flavour of all things Japanese comes to Derry this weekend as The North West Japanese Society kick off their annual On festival. For the first time this year sees the festival extended from a weekend to a whole week with lots to do including Japanese doll making, Haiku poetry workshops and recitals, a Manga art exhibition as well as a chance to try your hand at cooking Japanese cuisine. Also for all the movie fans there is a screening of the 2016 version of the legendery Shin Godzilla. With all these and so much more to do it promises to be a week of fun activities that everyone can enjoy.

For more information and details of all events go to http://www.japanesefestivalireland.com

Troubling times told by those who witnessed them

We all know about the troubles, or think we do. Everyone the world over has some sort of opinion of how the troubles started or who was at fault. As someone who was born in the midst of the chaos, this particular reviewer, when asked about the troubles always explains it as different versions of the same truth. That is to say that each person who lived through the troubles will have experienced the events from a certain point of view and that particular point of view isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s simply the version that that particular person has come to think of as the truth given their own unique set of circumstances. That is not to say that everyone doesn’t come with their own particular set of prejudices but it is up to the interested and impartial observer to listen to each point of view and make up their own mind. Among those observers, who often put themselves in harm’s way in order that you the public were informed of events, were the journalists and reporters who reported on the numerous tragic events so for this to happen. Reporting the Troubles: Journalists tell their stories of the Northern Ireland conflict, does exactly what it says on the tin so to speak. With participation of well known international journalists such as Kate Adie, Martin Bell, Robert Fisk along with lesser known hacks who lived among the people about whom they reported. Each one has their own perspective, their own memories of a particular person or incident which occured during the over thirty years of violence. Each one is heartfelt and sincere and tries to bring attention to some of the many victims of the troubles, it also does what every journalist is often told not to do – it makes things personal. The strength of the book is as has been mentioned already, in the wide variety of reporters who have been asked to contribute. Perhaps where the book falls down is in a way in which the reporters themselves would critique their own work, it highlights one particular incident over another. Another point worth making is that once you read about an incident you have yet to come across you are fairly certain that the next is linked in some way, there isn’t enough of a variety. With that said it is indeed hard to remember every terrible incident, to pick one victim over another. What the book does do well is explore the human, private side of the reporters involved. It allows them to open up to an audience like perhaps not permitted at the time about the events and personalities involved. As someone who grew up during the troubles it is perhaps difficult to look at these events totally objectively, however at times the perspective of the intervening years and unawareness of some events certainly helps. A book best for those with a distant perspective on events perhaps

Tides makes waves in London

Tides, a documentary about the river Foyle in Derry by Italian director, and some time Derry native, Alessandro Negrini has gained yet more success; this time at the Gold Movie Awards in London where it won Best Documentary. 

At the event in London’s historic Regent Cinema where Negrini rubbed shoulders with the likes of Billy Zane and Sadie Frost, the normally humble Negrini admitted that he allowed himself a certain amount of pride and excitement at the film’s recent achievements, 

“I hope that my film continues to infect people with the desire to listen to their forgotten dreams; to reserect what they have put away in drawers years ago and forgotten about. I hope that in my own poetic way I have helped to tell the story of some of the things that have been put in those drawers. That I have reserected forgotten dreams for people”.

Tides has continued to make a big impression on audience’s across the world; this being the twelfth award it has collected. Negrini, together with his production team of Director of photography Oddgeir Saether, Editor  Stuart Sloan, music by Chris Ciampoli and narration of Emma Taylor have won, among others; the main prize at A Film for Peace Film Festival in the United States, the award for best cinematography at the Sole Luna Film Festival in Palermo, the award for best documentary at the Malta International Film Festival, the award for best documentary at the Mediteran Film Festival in Bosnia, the best screenplay at The Tehran Film Festival,  and The Parma International Music Film Festival. It can only be hoped that film festivals and awards in Ireland can take notice of this truely mezmorising film.

To read Culture Journal Ireland’s review of Tides visit https://culturejournalireland.com/2017/05/09/a-memorable-night-for-a-mesmerising-film-about-a-unique-river/ or follow the links via our archives. 

For more information on Tides visit http://www.alessandronegrini.com

The Favourite; a film to win over audiences

The Favourite, starring Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, is loosely based on events in the British royal court during the reign of Queen Anne. Whenever something is labelled as “historic” it can often get bogged down on whether or not the events which happen on screen actually took place in real life. In the case of this film, if the events which take place had actually happened in real life it would have long ago caused a sensation that no monarch since could ever have surpassed or covered up. In any event, to obsess over such things is the somewhat miss the point of a film, tv, or literary adaptation; it is exactly just that: an adaptation. Indeed, this of all adaptations is whimsical, farcical and light-hearted, it’s purpose is to entertain, and, to a broad extent, that is exactly what it succeeds in doing. Emma Stone, (her who’s star has risen over the past year because of the success of La La Land), plays a servant girl who appears to have come from nowhere, but is, in fact, a down on her luck aristocrat Abigal who finds herself under the charge of Lady Marlborough, played by Rachel Weisz, the favourite lady in waiting of Queen Anne. It is in this position, and because of a few chance encounters with the isolated and lonely monarch, that Abigal seizes an opportunity to regain the once hight status of her family. Through a series of carefully thought-out manipulations, Abigail is able to win favour with the monarch. The way she approaches it, however, results in her making an enemy of Lady Marlbourgh, who is determined to win back her privelaged place in court. The film is engaging on the eye with a series of well made costumes and splendidly plush settings, the acting, while not being slapstick hilarious (which would indeed not be in keeping with the tone of the film) is indeed entertaining. The script however seems rushed in places and the dialogue, although this particular reviewer is reluctant to mention it, does not seem in keeping with the times. What however does result on the whole is a thoroughly watchable and entertaining film. Go and see it at the cinema while you can however because it is doubtful whether or not it will have the same hold when it arrives on smaller screens in the future.