How it’s New York: It is part of Origin’s 1st Irish theater festival and the former Senator and his family are residents of the city, as is Colum McCann.
How it’s Irish: Presented by The Northern Ireland Bureau, it documents the return visit of George Mitchell to Northern Ireland.
A wonderful evening of film and conversation at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center served as Origin’s introduction of documentary film to its theater festival. Michael Fanning’s “George Mitchell: My Journey’s End” documented the former US Peace Envoy’s first return trip to Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, in which he played a pivotal role. The film, introduced by Origin’s George Heslin was followed by a talk back hosted by Loretta Glucksman Brennan. Joining her were George Mitchell himself, author, Colum McCann as well as the filmmaker.
Made in four days, the film covers Mitchell and his son Andrew’s visit to three families who had children born on the exact same day as Andrew in 1998. The idea was to explore how the lives of the Northern Irish children had been different as a result of the peace treaty. Fanning explained in the talk back that the families were chosen based not only on their willingness to participate, but also on their backgrounds. Mitchell joined in with levity saying that for anything to happen in Northern Ireland, someone from both sides and from the middle had to be at the table. The first two families chronicled were relatively happy with how things had evolved since the signing of the treaty, one was catholic and one was protestant. The final family interviewed, a protestant family, were distinctly unhappy with the peace treaty in the first place, particularly the fact that it required the release of prisoners, and still felt that the ‘Troubles’ remained very much a part of their lives – the father, a policeman, still felt like a target for violence. The anger and extreme views expressed by the female head of the family were a potent piece of the film. Both Mitchell and Fanning expressed great admiration for her courage in so freely sharing her view, considering the primary audience that would be viewing the film would not share her viewpoint.
The film is an enlightening view of Northern Ireland. The province’s news predominantly focuses on its various confrontations and political complexities, and so it was eye opening to catch a peek inside the private daily lives of people there. Although at times, the movie seemed somewhat self-congratulatory, Mitchell is very charming and a joy to listen to, and clearly a very skilled and affable diplomat, not to mention a dedicated public servant. He mentioned several times how difficult the task was, and how he almost bowed out of the process before its conclusion.
He is a natural orator and his son would agree. Mitchell relayed an anecdote during the talk back about how Andrew had asked his father to kindly consider curbing his standard eighteen minute responses to questions during the filming and take into account that his son was standing beside him in the cold. Andrew, a regular scene stealer in the movie, albeit a reticent one Mitchell told us, had only agreed to participate as a favor to his father.
McCann provided a further touch of glamour to the already swanky evening when he read a section, which chronicles Mitchell, from his novel, “Transatlantic” . He took time to honor Mitchell’s wife, Heather, and regaled the audience with a story about her dedicated support of his book, correcting details such as George’s preferred shoe color in earlier drafts of the work.
With the bar set to this high standard, we can await with anticipation for what might lie ahead in 1st Irish’ film component next year. Kudos goes to the myriad of people and organizations that came together to produce this highly entertaining evening.