Written by STF blogger Cameron Carnegie
In The Pipe, the tiny Irish town of Rossport and its colorful inhabitants are exposed through the gentle lens of Director Risteard Ó Domhnaill. The film, produced by Rachel Lysaght, gives us something resounding. In an age of commonplace political betrayal and corporate audacity, fishermen and their families turn back a corporate Goliath with the only weapons at their disposal.
Armed with fierce integrity and steadfast determination, oppressor Shell Oil finds its goal of laying a pipeline through the lush and vibrant countryside rendered impotent by its inhabitants. Using sit-ins, and even a hunger strike stretched over eight years, the townspeople manage to turn back behemoth Shell Oil repeatedly. But it is not without pain and enormous human suffering. Click “Read More” below.
(Photo: From left, Risteard Ó Domhnaill, Rachel Lysaght and Thom Powers, courtesy of Cathryne Czubek)
When the credits stopped a resounding applause shook the IFC theater. When it subsided, the sister of the film’s barrel-chested lifelong fisherman Pat “The Chief” O’Donnell quietly told a reporter, “My brother was incarcerated for 7 months right after the filming stopped.” One gets the feeling Shell Oil does its real dirty work when no one is looking. Her voice steady, her words tinged with an impossible mix of pride and sadness, O’Donnell revealed the emotional and financial devastation her brother experienced and is still experiencing. As a husband and father to four children he missed the birthday of his youngest 9-year-old daughter while he was in jail. Equally difficult for O’Donnell, a modest crab fisherman, was that he doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t work.
The importance of The Pipe is ultimately that it exists as the sole illumination of the plight of the Rossport citizens. The mainstream media attention has long since withered as the battle endured. And over time, the diversely passionate townspeople have splintered only to reunite as more brutish truths of the oil company’s intentions are revealed.
As Domhnaill introduces us to the citizens we realize this is a group not unlike ourselves. Yet they are functioning to survive against impossible circumstances. In a cruel irony, many of the local police dispatched against the protesters are the childhood friends of those they now bully and take to jail. In another scene, as O’Donnell navigates his small fishing boat into the path of the world’s largest vessel—the Shell pipeline-laying Solitaire—Domhnaill’s shot provides an almost perverse sense of the odds. Is it only a matter of time? You may be sad, you may be outraged, but one thing you won’t be is indifferent. Following the screening, Stranger Than Fiction Artistic Director Thom Powers spoke with Ó Domhnaill and Lysaght.
Stranger Than Fiction: What has the response to the film been?
Answer: Here there is a great network. People tell each other [about the film]. Word of mouth has been very important. Here is just the same with the Irish people social networking especially. We have a Facebook page and website.
STF: How long did it take to film?
A: I thought I would be there for six months. I ended up staying three years. I fell in love with the story and the people. We finished it last July. Then we were picked for Toronto Film Festival.
STF: What drove your interest?
A: When I started researching in 2006, one of the local politicians had been jailed for corruption and the other resigned over the Shell situation. Shell was the first company ever to be given compulsory acquisition powers. When Shell interfered or ignored the laws and decisions that were issued, the justice system turned a blind eye. The people are of limited resources.
STF: What was it like after you wrapped?
A: When we were done filming we had 400 hours and really two stories. One was the corporate part and the other the human side. About Pat, Willie and Mary. From the corporation side we found that Europe would only act if damage had been done. It is retroactive. It really is a global story how political and business can go against the good of the citizens.
[Q&A has been edited for length]