Father troubles and resolution

Film is a collaborative medium, but what is the situation if the filmmaker whose footage is being used is deceased? And what if that filmmaker is also your estranged father?

Father troubles and resolution

Don O’Mahony

Film is a collaborative medium, but what is the situation if the filmmaker whose footage is being used is deceased? And what if that filmmaker is also your estranged father?

The father in question is American documentary filmmaker Arthur MacCaig and the son is Dublin filmmaker Donal Foreman.

Based in Paris for much of his life, MacCaig reported extensively on the conflict in Northern Ireland. He died in Belfast in 2008, at a time when Foreman was just starting out as a filmmaker. The pair had met only once as adults, just a short time before MacCaig passed away.

Described as “a film between” Donal Foreman and Arthur MacCaig, The Image You Missed is a deeply layered work, which traces Foreman’s interest in film and filmmaking and examines his search for his father through the prism of the Troubles.

“I guess I thought from the beginning of the film being a way of sort of creating a dialogue between me and Arthur and one of the things that kind of excited me about embarking on the project was, as well as the personal interest I had, it was a way of bringing something new into my own filmmaking, that by kind of engaging with his archive I could sort of

transform myself in the process,” explains Foreman.

“So it was the way that I could kind of deal with these questions about politics and Ireland and filmmaking that I couldn’t have done with otherwise.

And I wanted to bring a bit of his filmmaking approach and his outlook on the world into my own approach and then also, vice versa, to bring my own perspective to his material.

The blurring of the lines between the two men is achieved both subtly and dramatically in the way Foreman’s footage cuts into MacCaig’s.

But there is also a powerful scene where the only footage MacCaig films in the Republic, shot from the DART, is juxtaposed with footage Foreman shot from one of the recognisable landmarks looking back to the DART line, a poignant metaphor of ships passing in the night.

Nevertheless, Foreman feels the experience has helped him develop as a filmmaker.

“In the past, I tended to really shy away from any kind of exposition or didacticism or just kind of tackling ideas or tackling political questions head-on.

"So that was one area that was definitely new. And dealing with voiceovers and these kind of various tools of the essay film style, that was totally new to me and in a way it was pushing against my own instincts,” he reflects.

Foreman visited MacCaig’s apartment in 2009, and as he picked through his father’s archive he began to wonder would any image of him show up, but not even a photo emerged.

Foreman filmed MacCaig when they met in Paris and he appears in the film as a somewhat stilted figure. Their conversation mostly centred around film, particularly the acclaimed French essay filmmaker Chris Marker and radical American filmmaker Robert Kramer.

“I wouldn’t say there was a bonding,” Foreman says.

We had a good chat about filmmaking and just about different films we liked and things like that. One of the healing aspects of meeting him was realising that it wasn’t like there was a father that I had missed out on, because that wasn’t who he was. That wasn’t something he was capable of.

The Image You Missed screens at Triskel, Cork, from Sunday to Wednesday. Donal Foreman will introduce the 9pm screening on Sunday.

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