Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, Vince Vaughn… Hold the phone. Now there’s a name you don’t expect to see popping up when it comes to conflict in Northern Ireland, but believe it or not, Hollywood superstar Vince is launching a new documentary, Art of Conflict, on Netflix this summer, and it’s all about the famous Belfast murals.
So, how does the star of films like Wedding Crashers and The Break Up end up making a serious documentary about the Nationalist and Unionist communities of Northern Ireland? Well, as Vince explains to us down the telephone on a sunny May evening (we spent most of it pinching ourselves), he was making that Irish-American pilgrimage to the homeland a few years back. Vince has Irish blood on both sides of the family, so he was delighted to get the chance to travel around the country. He was exploring up north when the extraordinary art work caught his eye.
“I had never seen the murals or heard of the murals, I was aware of the conflict, but not all that educated about all of the goings on with it”, Vince, who has Irish ancestry on both sides of his family, explains. “I went to see the murals and what really struck me was that these murals were in these neighbourhoods, they were not, you know, pieces of art that were separate in an artistic point of view solely. They really were, you know, either points of view about the neighbourhood, remembering events that they found to be important, or you know, just put up to sort of intimidate people who wouldn’t be welcome. In standing in the neighbourhood you were overcome by the amount of murals that were there, existing in the neighbourhood. And so I really found the murals to be quite powerful.”
It’s no surprise that the imagery had such an impact on Vaughn: His parents are Catholic and Protestant, a union that would have been unthinkable in the Belfast of old. However, it wasn’t the conflict itself planted its seed in the actor’s mind: It was the art that had emerged as a result of the age-old struggle. It was that art which he encouraged his sister, documentary maker Valeri Vaughn, to go and see for herself.
“When I came back I said ‘You know, I think this is really interesting, tell me if you’re as passionate about it as I am’, and she went and took a look at it and she felt similar. And we thought it would be just an interesting way, to focus on the muralists, focus on the murals, and focus on the art that came out of the conflict. You get some information, and you get to find out what happened, but our focus is really these muralists”.
The duo packed their bags and headed for Ireland, spending months in Belfast with the muralists, locals, and pivotal figures such as Gerry Adams. They spent a lot of time gaining the trust of the people involved and, while the film was still in production in 2012, they brought a rough cut to the Galway Film Fleadh and Denver Film Festival to name but a few. Vince says bringing even the roughest cut of the documentary to Ireland was something he and Valeri were determined to do, as gauging the reaction of the Irish people was an important part of the film-making process.
There was a phenomenal response to the piece and now it’s due for release on Netflix on June 1st 2013. Will anyone outside Ireland get what Art of Conflict is all about though? “As specific as it is to Northen Ireland, I think there is something universal about, unfortunately, what happens when you get cultures that don’t get along that are next to each other”, Vince says. We can see where he’s coming from.
We can’t let Mr Vaughn go without finding out what he made of his trip to the Emerald Isle though. Was he ever worried for his safety when heading into staunchly Nationalist or Unionist communities? It appears not, but there was one thing that scared the bejaysus out of him. “I was terrified sometimes because those little country roads are so damn small, and then they put those signs up that say y’know so and so many drivers killed on this road this year, and I thought, God, I’m afraid as it is, driving on the wrong side of the road, and then when a truck would come by me, I’d feel like I had very little real estate to navigate.”
Don’t worry Vince, sure isn’t mastering some of our country roads a bit of an art in itself?
Art of Conflict: The Murals of Northern Ireland is available to stream on Netflix in the UK and Ireland from June 1st 2013.