The making of

In 2012 it was announced that Derry-Londonderry-Doire was to become City of Culture the following year.

That same year I travelled to the city to attend a day of talks at The Playhouse to launch the announcement.

I was struck by the way that people were talking about how the city was perceived by the outside world. The talks seemed to focus on the city’s unavoidable past rooted in conflict and division. This was in many ways inevitable and it was necessary to face the threat of violence and prejudice face on rather than shy away from it. But it struck me as strange that no one was talking about the people that inhabited the city today, the very people that had made the bid a success.

I decided at this point that I wanted to create a project that put the ‘ordinary’ inhabitants of the city at the forefront of the conversation. I devised a project called ‘I am not quiet’ with co-producer and friend Tim Owen Jones. I also collaborated with a Northern Irish photographer Christina Kernohan. Over a few months we met with a variety of community groups and gatekeepers to reach out to the individuals in the city. In every room we visited we looked for the ‘silent’ person in the room, not the one who was first to step forward and tell their story.

We met with Men’s Action Network, The Rainbow Project and MS Foyle amongst others. We asked people to tell their story. We looked to create an audio visual portrait of the city by asking people to tell stories that they felt represented their identity most fairly and as they would like to tell it.


It was meeting with ‘Mens Action Network’ though that really changed the course of things. It was here that I met with men who were gathering to discuss abuse, anger, addiction and trauma, much of which derived from their pasts but was playing out in their present lives. I felt like I was privy to a place where the impacts of past conflict and violence were very real. Despite the political peace that had been agreed in 1998 in Northern Ireland there was a gaping hole in human peace, particularly amongst men who had locked up their pain and guilt; it was playing out in their relationships and daily lives in 2013.

This is when we decided to make a documentary about the contemporary male identity of The North/ Northern Ireland.


Dan and I met in November 2013 (at a friend’s birthday in a London pub) after he had been travelling in the West Bank as a photojournalist. Growing up in Ireland, Dan had spent time travelling back and forth between the Republic and The North as a child, to visit family relatives and friends. He remembers having to hide in the footwell of the car to shelter from the stones battering the windows as they drove through Protestant/Loyalist areas in Belfast. The Irish registration plates gave away where they were from and branded them as ‘other’ despite the fact that in reality Dan was from a mixed family, having an English mum and an Irish dad. The duality of identity was therefore in Dan’s mind as a young child but the conflict didn’t seem to make room for these subtleties.

I also had a history with Belfast. My step mum was Mo Mowlam the Northern Ireland Secretary under the Labour government during the Blair years. During Mo’s time in Northern Ireland the Good Friday agreement was signed and political peace was finally negotiated between both sides. A ‘fragile’ peace has held ever since.

I am fascinated by identity. What happens when everything you have come to know is gone? When a belief defines you and a war – a battle, a fight suddenly stops. Does it just stop inside you too?

When I spoke to the men of Northern Ireland, I saw soldiers from both sides who had fought for a cause that they believed in, they had been imprisoned, lost family members and friends and had committed violent acts against others under the guise of war.


However, the war they were fighting is not officially recognised as a war, hence our reference to it as ‘The Troubles’. In 1998 the political leaders finally agreed to peace. It was agreed that the guns would be handed in and a new assembly was formed at Stormont.

But what happens to the foot soldiers? How do you go back to being a labourer or a taxi driver? How does all that anger and frustration play out? Who do you talk to? Do you just stop believing what you believed before?


That is not to say that people did not want peace. The vast majority did and still do today. But there needs to be a space for conversation and recovery. A process for grieving and forgiveness. It was the men that I felt had less space to do this than the women.

I wanted to create a platform and a space for this conversation amongst men. I wanted to tell a true story. I wanted to honestly investigate the identity of the country today. I no longer wanted to dwell on the past but I wanted to re-present a place today and explore what that ‘new’ ‘shifted’ identity looked like.

We regularly talk about the impact of war in the Middle East and Africa. We often refer to the conflict in India and Pakistan and we recognise the impact of 20th century wars on parts of Europe and across the Balkans but we don’t want to see Northern Ireland. This may be because it is too close, or because we choose to believe it fixed but whatever the reason I believed and discovered that there was an important untold story sitting on our doorstep.

These issues are particularly relevant at the moment as we are witnessing hundreds of thousands of individuals fleeing their homes, torn apart by war, in boats and by foot, to get to Europe where they hope to be safe from the horrors. But much of the horror will travel with them in their memories and minds. The traumas and pain will not be left behind with the war and their identities will be questioned and complicated as they try to make a new life in a new place.

‘Born and Reared’ has taken two years to make and we have met some extraordinary characters. With the men came their families and their friends too, so while it’s story about men, there are inevitable female voices throughout. We worked with twelve men in total over two years.

Okay Productions