ART OF CONFLICT: THE MURALS OF NORTHERN IRELAND examines how the street art of murals tells the story of Northern Ireland's history and the violent troubles. It further explores the impact, purpose, and future of these murals. Filmed in Northern Ireland, the documentary provides interviews with local muralists, political figures, noted mural historians, art community members, and people who live and work in the region. The documentary is produced by Wild West Production (Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley) and directed by Valeri Vaughn.
On Demand Weekly's Nick DeNinno spoke with Valeri and Vince Vaughn.
Nick DeNinno: So what was your reaction to the filming over there? Did you encounter any obstacles or resistance from one side or the other?
Valeri Vaughn: Yes, we did actually. We had to go back more than once because we really kind of needed to build some trust with - for our interviews with the muralists especially. They didn't feel -- and maybe rightly so -- that they had ever been portrayed in a balanced way or that their voices were every really heard. We were so - felt so good after we completed and were able to show the film to the artists on both sides and for them to both say, "Wow thank you this is the first time we've ever seen anything done in this way that's balanced." So we feel like we're able to earn their trust, and then we feel good now that we've - that they feel good about what we did.
But that is - we did first encounter, yes, some fear some resistance, people not wanting to talk. We had heard fireworks, I guess. There were some shots go off in areas where we weren't welcome. And we got the message and left. So it was a building of trust over time. And Vince may want to talk about his relationship like with David Ervine, because I know that he was an important part of helping us earn some of that trust over there.
Vince Vaughn: Yes, David was very interesting guy who was really a big catalyst for our peace process who grew up in paramilitary groups in the Protestant side and went to prison and ultimately sort of had a mission in life to sort of get rid of the sectarianism and try to come to a place of removing that.
But he was a very important person for us. I like him. I really was impressed with him just as a person for the journey that he had taken from where he started to sort of what his point of view was. And he was very important for us as far as reaching out, you know. The Catholic side is more inclined to talk I think they've been - they feel a little more that they’ve been portrayed a little more - their side a little more understood. And Protestant side is more reluctant -- more afraid -- of media.
And David was very instrumental in getting some of the muralists and the people to come and talk to us and to express their point of view from how they felt the conflict was concerned. So he was very instrumental to us and sort of being able to take the journey which we wanted to take which was just to sort let, you know, all sides express themselves. And then also he was important for even - as the person I found him to be a very interesting and remarkable man.
Valeri Vaughn: He was definitely ahead of his time. He was a very progressive thinker who early on was thinking of ways towards peace and coming together. And because of that he was trusted. Certainly when we were over there able to help us with people on both sides. He's one of the rare people who had some respect from people on both sides of the conflicts.
Vince Vaughn: It's interesting in the film but without giving too much away but there's - you definitely see where he's conferenced the moment where there's really a lot of people on all sides that kind of show respect to him as well.
Nick DeNinno: How are the murals viewed within the community?
Vince Vaughn: You know, I don't know if there's one answer. I think that sometimes they would be really proud from a neighborhood and I think it was dependent on what phase that conflict was at and what was going on. The one thing I've come to understand is that these groups these paramilitary groups can't really exist without the support of the community. They have to have a community behind them and wanting them. They have to feel that they need to be defended or that it's important for them to do this.
And you know, there's probably still factions on both sides -- very small --that would want to return to that. But the majority of the people probably aren't with that at this moment in time, although it changes. But, you know, there's a real controversy now where the murals coming down are concerned. There's not a unanimous decision there. And I feel like what's happening is there's kind of a government board or a community board that's sort of insisting on it. And...
Valeri Vaughn: An arts council.
Vince Vaughn: An arts council that's kind of insisting on it. And I think that the artists are sort of torn, because on one hand the art was always just a reflection of what was going on in the communities and there is more of a want to sort of get past it. But I think that being said they would prefer a more organic transition versus an imposed transition. So, you know, some people feel it's good that these things are going away. Some people feel like it's not good. Some people who do feel like it's good feel, "Then who are we. You know, we didn't start off as muralists but we are now." You know, some people kind of feel that, you know, the communities themselves should sort of be allowed to gradually transition into different murals would be more appropriate than having it sort of mandated.
So I don't know that you would get a complete consensus from all people. And to your point -- which I think is valid -- there would have been times where a paramilitary group would have came up and said we're going to put this on the side of your building. And, you know, you would have been hard pressed if you didn't want it to oppose them. So, you know, I think at different times you'd have different support and sentiment.
And then of course you know a neighborhoods at times it wasn't as if it was unified. You might have a paramilitary group running a neighborhood, and then you'd have them fighting between the paramilitary groups -- even on both sides, you know. You'd have different factions of groups on both the Catholic side and the Protestant side that wouldn't get along at different times.
So of course in the film we sort of talk building with the art and the particular artists that we deal with and sort of get the history to that. But I don't know that there's an easy answer to that question that is as complete. I feel like you probably - it's sort of a transition and period that they're going through, and I think you have differencing opinions over what would be the right way forward as far as handling the murals are concerned.
Valeri Vaughn: We do have, you know, on the simple of it you have parents and people who don't want their kids walking pass gunman murals, you know, on their way to school. So you're always going to have a controversy over what's being painted.
As far as the murals coming down and the arts council, we talked to our muralists after - since we've filmed and they say they have turned down the money from the arts council, because they don't want to be told what to paint.
And also it's not really the same. If you're being paid to paint a certain image in order to, you know, have a positive mural up but it really isn't coming from - the way they were painting murals was always from a voice of something the community wanted to say or came about organically. So to be told put this image up so that we can have peace is a little different than we're having peace therefore we're going to reflect that in the mural.
Nick DeNinno: Great, well thank you so much, and congratulations on a really interesting film.
Vince Vaughn: All right, really appreciate it. Thank you.
Valeri Vaughn: Thank you.
The ART OF CONFLICT: THE MURALS OF NORTHERN IRELAND is available exclusively to watch instantly on Netflix.
Nick DeNinno Nick DeNinno is a producer based in Carlsbad, CA with practical experience in all phases of new media, content development, video production, television, and film. DeNinno is also an adviser and a programming resource to many universities who operate student-run television stations. DeNinno has launched several emerging and web television channels including National Lampoon's College Channel, Burly TV on TBS and Toga!. He is a member of the Producers Guild. @nickdeninno | @nickodw.
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