KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — Northern Ireland’s tragic history was never far away during the filming of Macdara Vallely’s debut feature “Peacefire,” which had its world premiere last week at the Karlovy Vary Film Fest.
Set in 1994, just before the ceasefire that paved the way for a permanent peace in Britain’s troubled province of Ulster, “Peacefire” was made in the director’s hometown of Craigavon — an area that had earned its place in the history of sectarian violence.
Delicate negotiations with community organizations and a local security detail did not prevent the film’s crew from getting caught up in what Vallely, 35, with an understatement born of being brought up during the troubles refers to as an “incident.”
“One evening, some dissident republicans opened fire with an AK47 to scare off a group of youths throwing fireworks at people from the roof of a shop,” he says.
The incident sparked a massive police response — and two nights of rioting.
“Some of our security guys got embroiled in the riot and arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act; it was three or four days before they were released,” New York-based Vallely says.
It was not the only reminder of how close Ulster remains to its past despite the renunciation of violence taken in recent years by the official Irish Republican Army.
Drawing on local people both as crew and actors, Vallely cast Terry “Cruncher” O’Neill and Gerry Doherty, both IRA volunteers who had served time in jail, in two leading roles.
“People kept on congratulating me on the ‘authenticity’ I was bringing to the film, but I only found out later that the reason they were able to give such good tips — such as the character who carefully picks up spent cartridge cases after a youngster is kneecapped in a punishment shooting — was that they had both been in the IRA.”
Centered around the son of a murdered IRA man who regards both the police and the IRA with equal contempt, “Peacefire,” which played in Karlovy Vary in the Forum of Independents section, depicts the bleak world of young men for whom crime and car theft is their only joy and kneecappings the price they risk paying for it.
Based on a successful Edinburgh Fest award-winning stage play that Vallely also wrote and directed, the $2 million budget pic was made with Northern Ireland Film Fund and private equity backing.
Vallely — who moved to New York eight years ago to work in theater — says his next movie should be about a more lighthearted subject.
“I’ve an idea for a comedy — and it will be set in the Bronx,” he says with a grin.