With I Am Belfast, director Mark Cousins pays homage to the city of his youth. Its history, buildings, and most importantly its people, are showcased in a light many won’t have seen before, but in a way I don’t think many aren’t going to find interesting . This is very much a personal ode, so for those who don’t know the city, or perhaps only know some of it, the emotions Cousins tries to draw out will simply fall flat.
This is not a typical documentary. Cousins narrates throughout, alongside an elderly woman (Helen Bereen) who we are told is the physical representation of the City of Belfast. From very early on it feels much more like an epic poem than a factual piece of filmmaking, which if you’re like me and greatly enjoy studying history, politics etc., is very irritating. I would love to learn more about Belfast, and to a certain extent I did, but for every fact I absorbed there were 20 minutes of dull quixotic overtures I had to wade through first.
There are some highlights, most notably the director’s use of archive footage throughout. To a lot of people, The Troubles is something they will have learned something about in school, or a parent may have discussed particular acts of terror wrought by the IRA; what Cousins does succeed in doing here is to show how it much it affected Belfast, not just in terms of physical casualties, but moral and social ones too. For that period of the film, 30 minutes perhaps, I felt genuinely engaged because there was a natural flow to what we were being told and shown.
I Am Belfast is I’m sure very enjoyable if you are from the city, know the streets, the people and the history, however for those not in the know it is difficult to relate to. I felt bogged down by the romance the director tried to layer on, and as a result the running time of 84 minutes felt very long indeed. There are some great shots of the city and the surrounding landscape, along with some real gems in the archive footage, but sadly none of these is enough to say I enjoyed it.
1 / 5
Dir: Mark Cousins
Scr: Mark Cousins
Cast: Helen Bereen, Richard Buick, Shane McCaffrey, Felicity McKee, Simon Miller
Prd: Jim Anderson, John Archer, Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn, Chris Martin, Cian Smith
DOP: Christopher Doyle
Run time: 84 mins
I Am Belfast is out now in cinemas on limited release