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Hot Docs Festival: ‘The Peacemaker’ Team Talks Addiction, PTSD and Recovery

The concept of recovery, in both the political and personal realms, is explored in “The Peacemaker,” Boston filmmaker James Demo’s intimate portrait of international peace broker and author Padraig O’Malley.

The feature, which bowed earlier this month at Full Frame, had its international premiere over the weekend in Toronto at the Hot Docs festival, where it screens again this week.

Selected for the 2015 Sundance Doc Edit and Story Lab, “Peacemaker” tracks five years of the gridlock-breaking work of Dublin-born O’Malley, now 73, in major conflict zones—notably through the Forum for Cities in Transition, an annual gathering of civic leaders from divided cities in various stages of recovery initiated by the Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where O’Malley currently presides as the Distinguished Professor.

But the deep heart and mystery of “Peacemaker” are most keenly felt in the personal struggles of its central character, whose recovery from alcohol addiction has profoundly influenced his work.

The application of concepts typically used for individuals to entire nations—and how and if that can work—was the hot topic for the Hot Docs audience during the post-screening Q&A with O’Malley and the director.

“When it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder, people simply don’t behave like ordinary people,” said O’Malley, whose most recent book, “The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine – A Tale of Two Narratives,” was published last summer. “When you look at a whole society through the prism of PTSD, it becomes difficult to interpret things, it becomes difficult to assign blame.”

Demo said O’Malley allowed the filmmaker to follow him around the world and also into deep personal territory “Padraig’s model for peacekeeping is based on the recovery model, and he gave me free rein to talk to anybody around him,” Demo said. “One of the questions in the film is, Why do some people want to change the world? It’s never a simple answer.”

Peace is not the absence of gunfire, O’Malley made clear. “In terms of conflict resolution, reconciliation is the most important thing—when the guns fall that is only just the beginning—ad reconciliation must be inter-generational,” he said.

“So very much like an alcoholic maintaining sobriety, peace will not come if both parties do not continue to work on reconciliation,” he added. “No society that doesn’t deal with its legacy of the past will ever recover.”

The Peacemaker” was pitched at the 2013 Hot Docs Forum; the 2016 edition of the market’s marquee event opens Tuesday.

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival runs through May 8.

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