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Cahir Filmmaker Wins Acclaim for 'The Pipe'

Eoin Kelleher - Tipperary Star
AFTER four longs years of filming behind-the-scenes action at Mayo's controversial Rossport gas pipeline project, Tipperary director and film maker Risteard Ó Domhnaill can afford a pause to look back with pride at his accomplishment.

Having devoted nearly half a decade to capturing on camera the bitter struggle that has divided one small west coast town, Ó Domhnaill's film 'The Pipe' has become a hit with film festival goers around the world, from Galway to LA, to Toronto, where

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it was recently screened at the world's second largest film festival. On Monday night, it was screened to a capacity crowd at The Gate Cinema, as part of the Cork Film Festival.

A searing David versus Goliath account of a bitter struggle which has all the ingredients of a Grisham thriller - a vast oil corporation, angry activists, and a community at war with itself - 'The Pipe' was made on a shoestring budget while Ó Domhnaill worked as a Cameraman for TG4.

Originally from Cahir in Co Tipperary, Ó Domhnaill says family roots brought him back to the area: his mother is from Mayo and his uncle farms nearby. In August, the gas pipe plans became the subject of an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanala, but the root of the conflict goes back at least a generation.

But behind the national headlines and scenes of gardai tackling anti-pipeline protestors lies a deeper story, says the Tipperary man, where local people have been mis-represented in the media.

"The stuff that I was shooting for TG4, and what was being shown in the papers were quite different. They said they were anarchists, anti-progress, extreme republicans: everything like that was being thrown at them. And it wasn't really fair. Although there were some people on the fringes who came in from outside, the locals just wanted their lives back and the project done right. They didn't want their rights rail-roaded."

'The Pipe' is an attempt to set the record straight. What started out as a few news clips has grown into a major documentary charting the lives of ordinary farmers and fishermen trying to protect their livelihoods, in the face of a state which tells them they're wrong.

Nobody could have foreseen the conflict would wrangle on for years, but as he delved deeper, Ó Domhnaill says he couldn't let it go: "It came to a point after four years where the story I was filming came full circle. It was the local people and their story that really stood out. And the people in the path of the pipeline."

The Pipe covers some moments of knife-edge drama: the trailer for the film shows a key scene when a tiny trawler faces down the might of the world's largest pipe-laying ship, Shell's 'Solitaire'.

"There were three Navy Gunboats, Gardai, and private security. None of us knew how it was going to pan out." Ó Domhnaill often found himself in the middle of violent clashes between the gardaí and locals, or being battoned by security. "There were times when you might be pushed into a ditch. But I didn't experience violence like the locals did. Some of the violence - with people being shoved out of the way or pushed into drains - that was fairly incredible."

After the jailing of the Rossport Five, the story changed from one of small farmers versus a big oil company to one of an ideologically damaged people taking on the state, says Ó Domhnaill.

"The film shows the splits in the community, the division, the anger. I don't try and tell Shell's story. There's only so much you can say in 80 minutes." The Pipe shows the conflict through the eyes of three characters, two farmers and a fisherman. "There are high points which reflect well on the people who opposed the project, and times when it reflects badly on them."

Making the documentary was fraught with editing dilemmas: what ugly scenes to leave in and what to leave out. "When I was filming the documentary I tried to also film the reasons for it coming about. The political corruption, the historic context, the natural resources, and the deal that was made with the oil companies in giving them our resources for a pittance."

Ó Domhnaill pays tribute to the late Labour Minister Justin Keating, who tried to implement Norwegian-style oil and gas royalties for the Irish people. However, "once Fianna Fail got in, they started dismantling that."

'The Pipe' was edited by Nigel O'Regan, produced by Rachel Lysaght, with backing from the Irish Film Board and TG4. More information at