History_Film_and_Education_Text

Audience Response

At screenings in Derry/Londonderry and Belfast, audience members were given the option to complete a brief questionnaire. This is a sampling of the responses we received.

While this is a limited, non-scientific and non-qualitative sampling of audience responses, the questionnaires do provide anecdotal evidence from segments of the viewing audience, as well as illustrating the variety of interpretations reached by individual audience members. What people brought to the film, in terms of prior knowledge, views and commitment, clearly influenced their responses.

Screening at the Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast (25/04/2013):

Question 1: Did watching this film change the way you think about the history of Irish republicanism?

  • Too early to tell
  • Yes. Extremely interesting to see that when looking at external influences nothing was black and white. Interesting to see how people dealt with this with principles.
  • No, just realise how complex the history is. The enigma of Irish Republicanism is worth some exploration.
  • Didn’t change my view completely – however, it affirmed the significant disparity between socialism and republicanism.
  • Irish republican history varies depending upon the teller – the ‘Irish Question’ is far from settled. This film would not change a person’s view – it is an interesting perspective.
  • No – still the enigma.
  • No, but it did highlight facets of Irish Republicanism I did not know about.
  • Somewhat…Quite disappointed to learn that some republicans could have far-right sympathies!

Question 2: Were you aware of the links between Irish republicans and Nazi Germany before watching this film?

  • Yes, and the film highlighted the opportunistic nature of the relationship on both sides, Irish and German.
  • No, studying history at school I was under the impression that Ireland was neutral. The film has made me aware of the connections that the Irish republicans and the Nazis had such as a shared enemy…
  • Yes, vaguely.
  • Yes, I had heard of it but only knew about de Valera’s letter of condolences to Germany following Hitler’s death.
  • Not at all. Very surprised about the split opinion regarding Nazism.

Question 3: Do you have any concerns about creative documentaries that fictionalise aspects of the past as a means of exploring history?

  • No, I believe in artistic licence.
  • No, as it brings history to the attention of others and makes them think about and hopefully investigate it.
  • Yes – although it compels me to go back and sort out ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’ – if that is possible.
  • To an extent – but it also humanises actions which at the outset seem without explanation…
  • No, not if you believe film to be an art form. I would know that these creative documentaries are only one interpretation.
  • Filmic appropriations of literature and history can be shadows of the original or poor substitutes for the truth. They could be pristine representations. We must take each and examine each individually. The only concerns I would have would be if the fictionalisation trivialises history or is far from the truth or if it seeks to rewrite it altogether.
  • Yes, I’d have great concern about this.
  • No, it’s a good medium as long as it is done accurately.
  • It is an excellent way of getting people/the masses interested in history. As long as some kind of spark is ignited, people can go research the topic and make their own minds up.
  • If I had I would never watch another ‘history’ film. There has to be a certain amount of ‘licence’. There has to be an element of creativity to join up the factual (recorded historically) documents.
  • Not clear in this film what was fact or truth or conjecture. Would be concerned about this – can be dangerous to present fiction or conjecture as truth.
  • Very much so, the search for exciting/involving narrative cuts corners inevitably around facts, and perhaps equally as importantly, it distorts the balance of the portrayal or the significance of evidence.
  • I may have concerns re: what is fact and what is fiction in such a film. However, I think such films are very important and informative and serve a useful educational purpose as well as pure entertainment.
  • It depends how well it is done. It can – if done well – engage a wider audience with history.

Question 4: Do you think Frank Ryan’s story has much contemporary significance?

  • Yes, it helps us to understand that not everything is black and white. However, we should be ashamed of what he did while understanding to some extent why he did it.
  • Yes, solidarity with progressive forces against conservative.
  • Republicans still undecided about left/right politics.
  • Yes, the complexities that lie behind the stereotypes and black and white headlines.
  • Yes. Political ideology can take people on unexpected journeys. A very good film although it didn’t give us any answer as to Frank Ryan’s choices which contradicted his beliefs.
  • Various strands of republicanism, spies, role of the church, role of women, republicans in prison, ‘dissidents’, continual struggle, left-wing versus right-wing, commitment of the individual, divide and conquer, pacts with the devil, propaganda, collateral civilian damage…
  • I am unsure. It certainly helps to give a more nuanced view of Irish republican history. In understanding a country’s history, one gains a better understanding of the collective psyche of the country.
  • Frank Ryan’s story definitely has contemporary significance vis-à-vis pragmatism vs. principles in achieving political goals.
  • Yes, it does reflect dilemmas which may arise in everybody’s political consciousness, especially when fighting for a political cause.

 

Being an audience for anything is never a simple or singular process. It is a process that begins in advance of the actual encounter, as people gather knowledge and build expectations. [ . . . ] In other words, audiences bring their social and personal histories with them.

Martin Barker

 

Screening at the Foyle Film Festival, Derry/Londonderry (22/11/2012):

Question 1: Did watching this film change the way you think about the history of Irish republicanism?

  • It made me want to find out more.
  • No. Republicanism has always sought to capitalise on English difficulty to achieve their goals.
  • I didn’t know much about the history of the IRA in the 1930s or its links with the Spanish Civil War. Didn’t know anything about Frank Ryan before.
  • No, in any conflict protagonists will always look for avenues to endorse and promote their struggle.
  • Not particularly. Republicanism as with any ideology is bigger than one person or one particular story. It is the essence of the idea which is most important.
  • No, for me republicanism has always been a ‘broad church’ of opinions.

Question 2: Did you know about the links between Irish republicans and Nazi Germany before watching this film?

  • I knew about the links between Nazis and some Irish Republicans, although I never knew that Frank Ryan had collaborated with the Nazis. I found and still find this quite strange. I don’t know how a Republican/Internationalist could justify this to themselves.
  • Yes, through university lectures.

Question 3: Do you think Frank Ryan’s story has any contemporary significance?

  • Its complexity is relevant and his inner struggle is relevant.
  • Definitely. Perhaps a warning not to betray your ideals.
  • Yes, in that people who shape history are never simply black or white, ‘good’ or ‘bad’; like the history itself they are multi-layered.

Question 4: Other observations and criticisms?

  • Very good film and liked the chronological spine of actuality footage.
  • One needs to be told how much Frank Ryan’s words [in the film] derive from documented fact. Mention of concentration camps seems a little unlikely.

 

Audiences are communal, in complicated senses: people not only perform a lot of their audiencing in groups, they also carry in with them a sense of belonging to different discursive communities, some real, some imaginary, even as they may watch, listen, and read alone.

Martin Barker