Bombanice / Ana Kras for Mini
CHITCHAT (unfinished): A strange meditation on gossip.
Kids Of America a series of ID spots for MTV (1998). The first films I directed. Verite portraits of music fans. Shot across the country on beautiful Super 8 by Tobin Yelland.
Belfast Travel Journal
By Aaron Rose for The New Order
In light of the recent tragic events in Israel and Gaza I've been thinking a lot about a trip I took to Belfast, Northern Ireland some years ago. I had never been to a country torn by war before and the experience was profound. But perhaps even more incredible was the stories I learned from the people I met about how peace was achieved. I'm not saying that what is happening in the Middle East is the same situation, but I urge everyone to read the story of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland and how the Good Friday Agreements secured a truce is what was one of the bloodiest wars in history. Here's what I wrote about it at the time:
A few months ago I was invited to Northern Ireland for a screening of my film at the Belfast Film Festival. Ivory Serra, an amazing photographer and old friend of mine was invited along as well to set up an exhibit of his photographs alongside the screening. If you haven’t heard of Ivory before, his photographs of the New York art/music/skate scenes in the 1990s are legendary. My flight arrived in the early morning and before we even had a chance to get our bearings, our hosts had whisked us off to a local pub to drink some Guinness. Now I’m not one for product plugs in editorial, but if you’ve never tasted a Guinness in Ireland (especially before noon!), you really haven’t tasted a Guinness. This story, however, isn’t about beer…although the idea was probably fueled by it! So as we were siting there enjoying our frosty lagers, like good tourists, we asked our new friends about the political situation there in Belfast. To be more specific, we asked about the conflict zones. As many of you know, the city of Belfast has been ground zero for a cultural/religious civil war that has raged between Catholics and Protestants since the early 20th Century. It has been the site of countless major violent upheavals and senseless bloodshed. It’s a war zone, and even though a cease-fire has been in place for many years now, one can still feel the oppressive energy of anger and sadness throughout the city.
Whenever I visit a new place, it never fails that for some reason I want to visit the ghettos. I can’t really explain what the fascination with seedy neighborhoods is for me. Perhaps it’s a rebellious desire to explore the areas that don’t end up in tourist guidebooks. Maybe it’s my sneaking suspicion that it is only in the areas that have not been glossed over by gross commercialism that one can find the true soul of a city. I prefer to think it’s about the latter, and that my desire to dive into the dark-side lies in a genuine desire to connect to the heart of a place rather than simply trying to be “different.” To be completely honest though, it’s probably a combination of the two.
That said, it seemed an auspicious moment that I happened to be in Belfast with Ivory, a photographer who is no stranger to documenting sketchy situations. An editorial team such as the two of us doesn’t happen often, so it would have been a shame to pass the opportunity up. Although our new friends in Belfast couldn’t really understand why we wanted to go to the conflict area, they were supportive and pointed us off in the direction of Shankill Road. The area between Shankill and a street called The Falls are the demarkation zones in the conflict. Two neighborhoods that exist right next to each other and are supposedly the heart of the former military action. As soon as we neared Shankill we knew we were in the right place. Suddenly the entire landscape of the city changed. Urban commercial buildings made way for low-rise housing projects, many in disrepair, and various bombed out buildings littered the landscape. We cut off of the main street and into some smaller cul-de-sacs, examining the numerous murals on the sides of houses paying tribute to fallen soldiers. Even though the fighting had stopped here years ago, the streets remained eerily quiet. We could still feel the energy of war in the air. I suppose the most notable thing was the almost total absence of people.
The streets were almost totally empty. Every so often we saw some young kids playing soccer on a corner or in a vacant lot, but aside from that, people were not out on the streets. There was something very alien about the experience. We cut down one of the more major thoroughfares and walked for a while passing various crumbled buildings and a burned out gas station. After about a mile we came upon a large steel gate (open at the time) that marked the dividing line between the two neighborhoods. Although fortified, I was actually surprised at its somewhat simple construction. Cars passed back and forth easily through the passageways. However upon further inspection it was obvious that at any time those doors could be closed and this would all change. Looking to the left and right of the gate, the fence rose sharply to a height of possibly three stories. Painted a deep green and heavily constructed of concrete, barbed wire and chain-link, this was no ordinary fence. At this point we realized that within moments each side of this barrier could become its own armed fortress. The fence is officially called the “Peace Wall” and as we continued walking deeper into the area we noticed that it runs the entire length of both neighborhoods. In many places the wall cuts directly through people’s backyards, creating a sharp wedge between houses that at one point could have probably looked directly into each others windows. I had never seen anything like this in my life. We suddenly felt as though we were somewhere in the Middle East.
It was hard to believe that this could exist in a place as beautiful Ireland. But it does…and it’s very real. We continued on walking slowly through the small streets. Once we got over the shock of the fact that due to so much fighting, this area had been transformed into a war zone, I started to look deeper at the actual make-up of the neighborhood. If I removed myself from the violent history and really saw the area for what it was worth, there was actually a strange beauty to the place. The row houses were all painted bright colors and flowers in boxes hung from many of the windows. The streets had a wonderful charm to them, almost disneyland-esque in nature. Both Ivory and myself agreed that it was by far one of the most beautiful things we had seen on the trip. Our minds were able to ignore the pain-energy that ran through the streets and focus on the beauty of people who regardless of their circumstances have managed to make a home in the midst of the rubble. The areas of the Falls and Shankill Road are a true testament to the power of communities to overcome their hardships and make a life for themselves regardless. However, as we reached the end of the neighborhood we were quickly brought back to reality. The only exit we could find was over a small pedestrian bridge that crossed a highway back to the main part of the city. The bridge was covered in graffiti and completely enclosed on all sides by small chain-link and barbed wire. At the entrance to the bridge stood a gang of youths holding golf clubs. Ivory and I approached slowly and passed the group with small “what’s up?” nods given by both parties. They knew why we were there. They’re used to people walking through taking pictures of their troubles. However in this case, although a bit shaken I can honestly say that my visit to their neighborhood was far from painful. It actually gave me much hope.