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Review: "The Pipe" documents protests against Irish gas pipeline

L. Kent Wolgamott - Lincoln Journal Star

A multinational oil company wants to build a pipeline through a pristine, fragile environment. The people who live there protest against the pipeline and the company.

Sound familiar? It's not Nebraska. It's the west coast of Ireland. It's not the Sandhills. It's bogs and fishing grounds. The proposed pipeline won't carry oil but rather natural gas.

And the battle over the pipeline isn't going on now -- it took place over most of a decade, and it was tense and dangerous with villagers being thrown in prison, fishermen arrested, hunger strikes and international pleas for help.

The Irish pipeline story is captured in "The Pipe," a documentary by Risteard O Domhnaill, who embedded himself with the people of the village of Rossport, Ireland, from 2005 to 2008 and filmed their efforts to stop the Shell pipeline and Shell's attempt to build the structure.

Four Rossporters are at the center of the film -- Willie and Mary Corduff, whose house sits only a couple of hundred yards from the proposed pipeline path; fisherman Pat "The Chief" O'Donnell and schoolteacher Maura Harrington, the most "radical" of the protesters.

The film begins in 2005 with the arrest of the "Rossport Five," locals who are refusing to allow Shell access to their land and defy a court order in doing so. Tossed in jail for months, the five, including Willie Corduff, become symbols of the protest and bring attention to Rossport.

So the cameras are swarming when the villagers start blocking roads to stop Shell vehicles and get themselves arrested in the process. As those protests become ever more violent -- the Garda wielding batons and tossing people around -- the leaders call off the demonstrations. But Harrington and those who support her continue to favor more confrontation with the police and Shell.

European politics enters the process as do the Irish courts. But as those efforts grind on, Shell hires a huge ship to come into the bay and begins digging, starting the pipeline process.

O Domhnaill, who shot as well as directed "The Pipe," captures all of this in a variety of tones and textures -- beautiful sweeping landscapes contrast with cinema verite scenes on the highway and in meeting rooms.

Along the way, he reveals plenty about the protesters, their personalities coming to the fore as situations become ever more tense and trying. And after eight years of battling the pipeline, that effort takes a physical toll on the villagers as well.

"The Pipe" is a documentary film, not a TV news program. So it's far from "fair and balanced." Shell refused to participate in the film, the Irish government is heard from only in a callous remark from the prime minister about the arrests, and the Garda are not given an opportunity to talk about enforcing what the people call "Shell law."

Instead, O Domhnaill focused on the people who oppose the pipeline and are willing to sacrifice liberty and, in one case, to stop it.

Any similarity between the events of "The Pipe" and the ongoing opposition to the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline is intentional. "The Pipe" is playing for a week at the Ross Media Arts Center largely because of the parallels between Nebraska and the Irish protests. Because of that, "The Pipe" has a strong resonance here.

Posted Date: 
23 September 2011