I Am Belfast (****)
Running time: 84 mins
Director: Mark Cousins
Cast/ Narrator: Mark Cousins, Helena Bereen
(Belfast Film Festival screening, Movie House Dublin Road, 16/04/2015)
THIS year’s Belfast Film Festival opened with the latest piece of cinematic wonder from local filmmaker Mark Cousins. The director’s latest feature I Am Belfast is a bitter-sweet love-letter to the city of his birth, as he attempts to showcase its untold beauty.
The spirit of Belfast is our guide throughout the feature, embodied by a truly haunting performance from local actress Helena Bereen. Cousins uses her to full effect as she wanders Belfast’s streets telling him about the city’s past Part tale of wonder and part tale of mourning, it’s a film that’s tinged with a genuine sadness for the impact ‘The Troubles’ has had upon the city.
Even for many Belfast natives familiar places across the city are given fresh new life as they are presented through Cousin’s unique and artistic vision. His attention to detail is breath-taking, as he points his little observations from behind the camera.
It’s people depicted as a meeting of salt and sweet is a perfect example of this. Cousins likens the rocky relationship between Unionists and Nationalists within Belfast as being like the turbulent meeting of the sweet and salt water at the mouth of the River Lagan where it meets the Irish Sea.
In another bizarre sequence he depicts the celebration that will erupt across the city when the death of the ‘last bigot in Belfast’ is announced. Admittedly it’s a slightly naïve and overly optimistic assumption, but it’s still an admirable sentiment by the filmmaker. Clearly he hopes that one day his home town will be able to free itself from the shackles of it’s bloody, shameful past.
As a filmmaker Mark Cousins never fails to impress and I Am Belfast continues that trend. Poignant and heartfelt it makes us wonder what stories other cities could tell. Hopefully this dreamlike documentary will be seen by a wider audience and help changes some attitudes about our so-often maligned city.