AfP Interviews the Director of “The Journey,” A Film About the Northern Ireland Peace Process
On May 26, the Alliance for Peacebuilding interviewed Nick Hamm, the director of The Journey, a fictional account of the extraordinary story of two implacable enemies in Northern Ireland – firebrand Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness – who are forced to take a short journey together in which they will take the biggest leap of faith and change the course of history.
AfP: Tell us about why you wanted to be a director and how you first started in the industry
Nick Hamm: I started at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, then migrated to television after ten years in the theatre, and finally to film. I’ve always enjoyed the process of working with actors and writers to tell stories, it was pretty much as simple as that.
AfP: Let’s talk about The Journey, your film about Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. What attracted you to this story?
NH: Well I’m from Belfast, in Northern Ireland. So I knew that politicians from both parties would always travel together when they went abroad. So you have this extraordinary idea that people who were intractable enemies would be on a plane together, or a car, traveling with someone they don’t really like that much. I thought this would be a really interesting idea for a movie, and then I discovered that McGuinness and Paisley actually went on a trip together when they were at Saint Andrews; they actually took a plane home together, and it was one of the first times they actually met and spoke to each other. I really wanted to tell the story of this relationship because it was one of the most unique political partnerships that ever existed.
AfP: You’re from Belfast, so you were familiar with the Troubles, with McGuiness and Paisley, with the peace process; was there anything you learned during the course of making the movie that you didn’t know before?
NH: Oh yes, definitely. First of all, I met McGuiness when we were making the movie. I talked with him about how he navigated working with the British government and the IRA, becoming an elected politician and having to manage different constituencies, some of whom joined the IRA, and how that all worked. These were two men who represented two extreme divisions within Irish politics, but were ultimately able to rise above that to bring about the peace process.
AfP: When you were researching for the film, did you come across any stories of peacebuilding that were happening at the time, or since then? For example, the story of Jo Barry (a woman whose father was killed in the 1984 bombing of the Brighton Hotel) and Pat Magee (who planted the bomb), meeting for the first time sixteen years after the event, when Pat was released from prison. They eventually started an organization called Building Bridges for Peace, which works to enable divided communities and the general public to explore and better understand the roots of war, terrorism and violence.
NH: Yes, it’s those sort of initiatives that I think had a massive impact on peace, slowly, over time, and I think allowed Paisley and McGuiness to attempt a peace process. At the moment, there’s peace in Northern Ireland because Paisley and McGuiness took a risk to try to change things.
AfP: Was telling this story something more than just making a movie for you? Do you think that this film is also part of the peacebuilding process, that if people see this it and experience this story it will be part of the peacebuilding process?
NH: Well it’s only a film, but it’s a little attempt at that. It’s still playing in Northern Ireland and does well there and celebrates something good, but it’s more about sending out a positive message to the world. It sends a message that peace happened in Ireland, and that if it’s possible there, it’s possible elsewhere. If Paisley and McGuiness can do it, anyone can do it.
AfP: Are you interested in making more films about peace, about communities coming together after conflict?
NH: Yes, I am actually. You have to find the right story and make it entertaining though. There are so many stories of communities falling apart that it’s important to tell the stories of communities coming together.