James Bluemel doesn’t back away from a challenge.
What the filmmaker does is step back and evaluate what needs to be done to get a project done correctly.
As the series director of the five-part “Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland,” Bluemel and his crew had to climb uphill to tell this story.
The series runs chronologically from the beginning of the Troubles in the late 1960s to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998 – the 25th anniversary of which was just celebrated.
The series combines unfiltered personal accounts with archival footage to tell the story of the people and communities that had to live with conflict daily – and are still dealing with its legacies today. It begins streaming on the PBS app on Monday, May 22.
The BBC and PBS collaborated for the series.
Bluemel interviewed men and women whose lives were changed forever by the conflict.
He says it gives voice to the people who lived through Northern Ireland’s violent past by sharing intimate, unheard testimonies from all sides of the conflict.
“The process to get people to sit down in that room and sit in a chair and really open their past,” he says. “This isn’t something that people don’t tend to do without a lot of though and that does take time. We were lucky we had the time to put into that.”
From the son whose widowed mother is kidnapped by the IRA (Irish Republican Army), to the man from a loyalist estate whose family secret challenges his beliefs, and the woman who agrees to plant firebombs, the contributors recall historic events and personal memories, including: Anne Marie, aged 10, throwing bottles at British troops during a riot in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1981.
Bluemel wanted to take on Northern Ireland history because it was the next step in his filmmaking journey. Prior to the Northern Ireland project, he had done a series in Iraq.
“Hearing stories from Iraqis of how their friendships, families and neighborhoods were ripped apart by sectarian killings, made me think about another sectarian conflict, one which was much nearer to home,” he says. “Northern Ireland was always on the news when I was young – bombs, violence, murder and pain seemed to be ever-present there. As an adult, I might have understood the broad politics behind the events, but I realized I had no idea how anyone in Northern Ireland really felt about living through that turbulent history.”