We’ve all had barstool conversations about our nation’s compliance with austerity, now someone has decided to make a film about it. rabble caught up with Treasa O’Brien of Too Good To Resist, as they run into the last nail biting days of their Fundit.ie appeal.
Okay, so first up – can you give me some idea of what motivated you as film makers to start taking a look at apathy in Ireland? Like what was the moment of genesis for the project?
Treasa O Brien: We trace the moment of genesis to a Greek protest in 2009 where marching workers chanted ‘We are not Irish, we the workers will resist’.
Mary Jane and I moved from Ireland in 2008 to Barcelona and London respectively just before the ‘crisis’ – MJ to study a Masters in International Relations and me to do a Masters in Filmmaking. We were more socio-cultural refugees than economic migrants. Our experience of the bust was via the media and what we were hearing from family and friends and our own visits home. When I finished my MA in Jan 2010, I went to visit MJ in Barcelona. We spent every evening oscillating between lament, anger and confusion over why people at home were not enraged by what we saw as the bare-faced cheek of the government – bailing out the super-rich with everyone else’s money. We had both joined in on the anti-cuts activism in Barcelona and London and I guess we were a bit embarrassed by what we saw as acquiescence in Ireland. Mary Jane convinced me to make a film about it – thinking we’d make something fast and furious.
But when we started to research Irish reluctance, we had to look a little deeper; one idea led to another and a whole can of worms burst all over the place. The two of us are completely absorbed now, and battling to balance the day job with skype calls, post-colonial research and trying to get huge cameras into our handbags in Ryanair queues.
Do either of you have any experience in social movements or radical politics here?
TOB: Mary Jane and I were both politically active I guess in the sense that we participated in anti-war protests in Cork and Shannon. We lived together in Cork from 2006-2008 and worked there with People Before Profit campaigning for a No Vote on the Lisbon Treaty, organising public meetings on the privatization of healthcare for example, or running pub quizzes for The Raytheon 9 and Gaza.
MJ’s dad was a Trade Unionist when she was a kid and she is very much influenced by the ‘old left’ if you like. My politicisation was more through art and later, through travel and coming into contact with social movements like the anti-globalisation movement. I spent time in Latin America where I saw direct action like Bolivian road blocks and radical community radio shows in El Salvador. I was also hugely inspired by the Zapatistas in Chiapas and in general by the historical Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Both Mary Jane and I visited Palestine together in 2011 and also learned a lot about protest there. It is a good mix as we are not exactly of the same political cloth, and the process of making the documentary has led us to challenge our own political assumptions … and sometimes just agree to disagree, and or just arm wrestle it out
How did you find the people you were interviewing reacted to you? It even comes across a bit in the trailer, people can be quite distrustful of the media, especially the mainstream media – did any of that have a knock on effect in terms of how people related to you?
TOB: We did the first couple of interviews in 2011 and then did the bulk of our interviews during a road trip in Summer 2012. Most people have been very responsive to us, lots of the older participants were very happy, maybe amused, to see two young wans trying to work things out, especially as we rocked up in a van in which we lived for the 3 weeks, so were charmingly dishevelled. People are always wary of vox popping, they don’t know who you represent or how you might portray or edit them later. We figured out how to get their attention though, as they dashed by us outside the GPO with our big camera in Dublin, we tried being polite; in the end we just roared into the crowd, “So, what do you think of the banks”. They opened up then to that!
What was your approach to making the doc? Did you set out with something you wanted to say, or did you let the narrative emerge from the interviews you carried out?
Our questions are very much open ended when we interview people, and so the best interviews are simply great conversations and exchanges. The narrative flows from this in so far as we have experts on different theories giving us their input, but we regularly come back to our core questions and ask them to deal with those directly. We deliberately stayed away from the usual suspects who are the commentators we hear all the time – except for Fintan O’Toole who I just happened upon at Electric Picnic and we chatted under a tree. We are currently rewriting the structure of the film, i.e. the reasons or themes that have emerged from the interviews we’ve done as well as research into history, post-colonial theory, politics, sociology and so on. So our method now is more mixed as we need to go out and shoot or find archive for the ‘missing links’, so to speak.
One thing I found quite interesting about the trailer or maybe slightly ironic, was that it starts with an assumption that the Irish are remaining passive through out these years of austerity. But, a lot of it seems to be filmed against a backdrop of protest camps, community gatherings and political action? Is there a danger that the documentary might contribute to that well worn myth of the passive Irish, when really, if you look at stuff like Rossport, the household tax campaign and whatever else – there is actually a litany of political action here?
TOB: ‘Too Good to Resist’ is a provocation or a question rather than a sealed premise. The film has been three years in development, and we are attuned to what is going on and careful not to base anything on opinions about what was (not) happening in 2009/10. We recognise that Shell to Sea and many other grassroots movements like the Ballyhea Bondholder Bailout Protest have been working hard in Ireland, and we celebrate these movements in the film, but we also analyse how those movements fit into the bigger picture, and we find that they are often isolated. For example, people in Ballinaboy told us that they found more solidarity internationally than nationally. Documentarist Paula Geraghty has an archive of literally hundreds of gatherings, protests, marches and strikes, but the most notable things about them is that they are all single-issue protests, they are not joined up into any mass movement comparable to other countries that have been similarly affected. In some cases there is a distinct lack of empathy between groups with similar interests. We also want to interrogate our own presumptions of protest being ‘good’ itself within the documentary – is there a case for acquiescence over resistance?
In your own eyes, what makes Ireland seem so peculiarly silent when it comes to lashing back against the forces of austerity? And was there much of a consensus among the interviewees?
TOB: There is a huge mix of ‘reasons’ – we have heard them all I think, from shock, emigration, alcoholism, to the weather and fluoride in the water. But some of the biggies are the lack of a strong left discourse and organisation and the fact that Fianna Fail populism and nationalism usurped that space historically; Can there be ‘spontaneous resistance’ if there is no backbone organising or history to draw from? Which led us to examine our history anew and find the resistances that have happened and ask how they worked. There are also a lot of postcolonial theories that explain people’s distrust of the state, our deference to authority and our resistance as subversive rather than as directly challenging.
The North has been the biggest elephant in the room – is there a fear of protest and ideology because of the Troubles? And can we have cross border solidarity as a civil society or workers movement?
You seem to be doing a lot of filming in other European countries, what seems to be pushing them into resistance? You included that famous clip of Greek workers chanting how they were not Irish and would fight back. How are people elsewhere viewing our passivity?
TOB: We haven’t been doing much filming in other countries but we want to do more, hence the crowdfunding campaign we are running at the moment. The situation in Ireland makes more sense when you compare historical experiences of social upheaval and resistance in other countries. A friend of ours recently noted that the Greeks probably take the notion of democracy so personally because it is such a huge part of their history and identity – in Ireland maybe we’re not so attached. As Fintan O’Toole put it at the recent Future State of Ireland conference: If England had had a republic, we would have gone with a monarchy.
Next week we are going to interview someone in Barcelona about the history of libertarian anarchism there – during the Spanish Civil War, workers took over the factories and anarchists dug up bishops’ bodies to prove that saints were human too. Where did that sudden burst of egalitarian fervour and anti-clericalism come from, or was it even sudden? We hope that the answer to these questions will help us understand their absence in Ireland. At that time, the Catholic Church was consolidating its authoritarian grip in Ireland persecuting any dissent from the norm, politically and socially throughits many institutions.
On a broader note, since we started making our film, there have been major resistance movements which were unimaginable for us at the time, such as in Egypt, and the occupy movements. Some of our interviews were made before that, and some after, so we are documenting a thought process as much as anything – what is it that makes a society come together in solidarity and what are the conditions needed, and what happens if not?
Too Good to Resist is being produced by Underground Films, and Stinging Hornet Films. We are currently crowdfunding for the next stage of production. Treasa O’Brien will be talking about her insider/outsider approach to making this film, as part of the Migrant Artists On Ireland series at CFCP in Dublin on Sat 16 February at 6pm.