On Sunday Irish filmmaker Terry George won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short for his film The Shore. George first became famous for two unforgettable films about the Troubles, but his film about reconciliation and peace making in the North won gold. CAHIR O’DOHERTY profiles the Belfast-born director and the special place the story of The Shore has held in his heart for almost two decades.
It's a long way from the picturesque little seaside village of Killough in Co. Down to the Academy Awards, but this weekend the distance shrunk a little thanks to efforts of filmmaker Terry George and his daughter Oorlagh, who won the Best Live Action Short Oscar for The Shore on Sunday.
A tale about a friendship shattered by the Troubles, The Shore follows two old friends, one Catholic and one Protestant, as they reconcile over decades later. The question is, can old wounds be healed?
George answers the question with a film that is both hilarious and deeply moving.
George has made films all over the world, but he admits himself that filming on his own doorstep in the tiny Down village where he owns a cottage and where his parents are buried in a nearby cemetery has probably meant the most to him. Filming The Shore there was a joyous experience, he says.
“The story is about two old friends who grew up during the Troubles and who are separated,” George said in a recent interview.
“They fall out over a woman and reconcile after 20 years, only to discover their falling out was due to a misunderstanding. The subtext reflects where we are today in the North. I’m very proud of it.”
Although The Shore is about reconciliation and forgiveness, George sees it as very much of a piece with his other notable films Some Mother’s Son and In the Name of the Father.
“Over the last few years I’ve done a lot of Hollywood work, including script rewrites and television pilots, and it was a kind of frustrating time for me. You get an overload of input from executives and so on,” he said.
“So my daughter and I decided we were going to make a film of a story that has been in my head since In the Name of the Father.”
George’s work to date has often been dramatically riveting, but one word few critics would use to describe it is light. It turns out, though, that he’s just as handy crafting a funny and moving story as he is at the unforgettably wrenching dramas that have made his reputation.
“I’m always searching for stories about what will enlighten people and a lot of those are very dark and heavy, they can be intense for people to watch which is why I have switched over to these comedy things which also say something about a situation.”
The idea for The Shore has been with George for almost 20 years. Back in 1993 he took Oscar winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis on a tour of pre-ceasefire Northern Ireland. He had just cast the young actor as Gerry Conlon in In the Name of the Father, and Day-Lewis was anxious to see for himself all of the signature street hassles of daily life in the North including the roadblocks, the army patrols, the police searches and the bomb scares.
George obliged by taking him on a quick road trip to aid his research, but along the way he decided to take a break at his uncle’s house. Over tea his uncle Anthony told him about an incident that had happened to him a few weeks earlier when his boyhood friend Peter and his young daughter appeared at his front door unannounced and after a 25-year exile in New Zealand.
George says what followed was a hilarious misunderstanding involving a video camera, a group of mussel pickers, a horse, and a deeply-feared government agency.
Hearing of it, George laughed until tears ran down his face. For the next 18 years as he directed other award winning films and TV shows, the memory of that story stayed with him.
Finally, after a year of ups and downs with the Hollywood system he decided to take it on.
“My daughter Oorlagh and I went out and raised the money for The Shore through the Irish Tourist Board and Irish entrepreneurs. I contacted actors Ciaran Hinds, Kerry Condon and Conleth Hill and we shot this story right outside my front door over five days last summer,” he says.
“It was maybe the best experience of filmmaking I’ve had. It got me back into communication with the actors and the crew, telling the story and having fun.”
Casting the remarkable Hinds was the first stroke of luck, then roping in the celebrated director of photography Michael McDonough just as the tiny Down village enjoyed six unprecedented days of non-stop sunshine must have made the film seem like a blessed enterprise.
To top it all off, Oorlagh produced the project, raising the budget for her debut Oscar winning film.
One small act of reconciliation in the The Shore echoes the larger acts of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, which is where the film finds its power to move the audience.