36 CinÉireann / Issue 9
Sinead O'Shea's insightful and engaging feature documentary A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot is out in Irish cinemas. CinÉireann caught up with the director to talk about the film.
"What would cause a Derry mother to bring her son to be shot?" O’Shea’s documentary asks that extraordinary question.
One night in 2012, Majella O'Donnell took her teenage son Philly to a laneway near to her home to be shot in the legs by local gunmen. In a shocking, intimate yet often warm and surprisingly humorous portrait of a family, A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot tells their story.
Majella, her son and the gunmen are all part of the dissident community in Derry, Northern Ireland. The Troubles in Northern Ireland was supposed to have ended in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, but this community do not accept the government or police. To them, the war is not over, even as family life continues.
In the absence of a normal relationship with the police, dissident Republicans step in to combat a perceived drug epidemic with their own brutal form of justice. Majella was faced with an agonising choice: cooperate with a punishment shooting or risk even worse consequences for her son.
Filmed over five years by renowned journalist Sinead O’Shea (Al Jazeera English, Channel 4, The Irish Times, The New York Times, The Guardian), A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot has been described by Screen International as “fascinating and gutsy” and RTE as “shocking but unexpectedly humorous.” O’Shea’s achievement is to create profound empathy, making you question how you would have acted, even as you watch the astonishing drama unfold.
The film was nominated for the Fact Award at CPH:DOX, the Maysles Observational Documentary Award at Belfast, and Best International Documentary at EBS in Korea. O'Shea also represented the UK and Ireland as one of Europe’s top 10 female filmmakers at the Sydney Film Festival.
A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot is produced by Sinead O’Shea, Ailish Bracken and Katie Holly of Blinder Films, with Figs Jackman and André Singer of Spring Films, and Oscar-nominated Executive Producer Joshua Oppenheimer. The production and release received the support of Screen Ireland, RTÉ and Inevitable Pictures.
CinÉ: It's great to see more women taking up the camera and directing feature dramas and feature documentaries.
Sinead O'Shea: Definitely. We need to see more of them. We need to encourage more women, especially the quieter ones. It's the quieter ones that really have something to say a lot of the time. It's a tricky business.
How did A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot end up being a feature, rather than a TV documentary or a series?
There were so many points were I thought that I should give up and just turn it into a shorter piece. Originally I went out thinking about a feature. I did a Masters in Film Production in DIT. I began making TV shows. I made a TV show called Sampler, which I shot and edited, and it won an IFTA. So that was a brilliant start to my career, but then Sampler was taken off air after two episodes and I couldn't get any work in RTÉ again. So I began to move into current affairs, which is actually much better for a young woman I think. It's a lot better regulated and it's more facts based. You need to be so loud in film. I did that for a few
Sinead O'Shea Talks
A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot
Words: Niall Murphy