Donegal-born filmmaker’s unique take on Northern conflict

Donegal–born filmmaker Declan Keeney has much to look forward to in 2011. Last year the talented Film Director and Lighting Cameraman won critical kudos for his documentary film We Carried Your Secrets – a unique take on the Northern conflict from all sides of the divide. He’s currently in production on his latest documentary We Are Not Afraid which he is filming in Sarajevo and is a formal exchange between Queen’s University, Belfast and the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo.

Donegal–born filmmaker Declan Keeney has much to look forward to in 2011. Last year the talented Film Director and Lighting Cameraman won critical kudos for his documentary film We Carried Your Secrets – a unique take on the Northern conflict from all sides of the divide. He’s currently in production on his latest documentary We Are Not Afraid which he is filming in Sarajevo and is a formal exchange between Queen’s University, Belfast and the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo.

Declan Kenney is the son of popular Highland Radio presenter Packie Keeney and a former student of St. Columba’s College, Stranorlar. Fully trained by the BBC for work in civil unrest/riotous situations, Declan accumulated unique experience working on the front–line of broadcast journalism and news reporting in Northern Ireland. The filmmaker spent over ten years at the coalface of events in the North, honing his craft of documentary–making, and the experience yielded handsome rewards in his latest film.

We Carried Your Secrets is a sobering and poignant documentary which takes a fresh approach to the Northern Troubles. It assembles a cast of seven characters from disparate and extreme backgrounds and juxtaposes narrative of their real–life experiences with theatre – a project called Theatre of Witness devised for those who hitherto have had no voice in society. Each of the seven characters bring a different quality to the script. The theatrical re–creation of memories from the Troubles is presented as a cathartic release for these seven people from the traumas of the past. One of the seven individuals, Victoria, remarks “Not one of us who has lived through the violence here has been left unscathed.”

Declan Keeney’s prowling, probing camera picks out moments of remarkable humanity. One scene which has a former UDA Loyalist and terrorist photograph a memorial to an IRA man in Derry shows how much times have changed in Northern Ireland. A man called Jon tells how in 2008 he froze walking up the aisle at his daughter’s wedding rehearsal as he realised it was the first time in 40 years he’d walked the full length of the church without carrying a coffin. We Carried Your Secrets brilliantly captures the iniquity and remorse of the Troubles and underlines how many people who constantly revisit the pain find it hard to move on. But the film’s theatrical re–enactment of their stories allows the characters concerned to move on, perhaps for the first time.The accounts of the seven variously from prisoners, police officers, and family members brings texture to the script.

The film derived its title from a woman’s statement “We’ve been carrying your secrets since the day we were born” – a powerful truth about how secrets and stories were passed down through generations in the North and guarded in silence for decades. Some of those very secrets have emerged for the first time courtesy of Declan Keeney’s excellent film. We Carried Your Secrets – which was made in association with Theatre of Witness, Derry – is an expertly filmed and edited documentary which has broken new ground in the narration of the Northern Ireland conflict while also opening up a way forward for some of those involved, a singular achievement indeed. Having premiered at last year’s Belfast Film Festival, We Carried Your Secrets was also screened by the Department of Defence in the Republic and will continue to tour in 2011. For more see: www.declankeeney.com

Martin McCool writes a blog: Magic of the Movies.