The latest film by Northern Ireland’s celebrated filmmaker, writer and curator Mark Cousins (The Story of Film: An Odyssey, A Story of Children and Film, Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise) sees him cast his painterly eye on his home town, the port city Belfast. After opening last year’s Belfast Film Festival and screening in the BFI London Film Festival and other international film festivals, I am Belfast will be released by the BFI in selected cinemas and on BFI Player from April 8th, followed by a DVD/Blu-ray release on June 20th.

Now living in Edinburgh, Mark Cousins goes back to Belfast where he meets a woman who claims to be city itself; she says she is 10,000 years old. Old and wise, serene and graceful, the woman, played by Helena Bereen (Hunger, Mo) guides the unseen director around the streets on an emotional journey through the rich, complex and often tragic history of Northern Ireland’s capital.

This leisurely, dreamlike exploration takes in the outstanding natural beauty of the coastline, poetic observations, anecdotes and factual recollections – with shockingly detailed revelations about aspects of the Troubles. Stunning colour cinematography by Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, 2046) and archival clips from peacetime and times of violent conflict, are accompanied by a powerful soundtrack by the great Northern Irish DJ and composer David Holmes (Ocean’s Eleven, ’71, Hunger), who was scoring the film during shooting.

Among the real people that contribute to this very female take on the city are old friends Rosie and Maud, who steal the scene with hilarious expletive-ridden banter and outrageously flirty come-ons to the director. In a dramatised sequence, a street procession to ‘the funeral of the last bigot’ sets poetry in motion as the city’s darker elements are put to rest.

In preparing to shoot the film, Mark Cousins walked every street in Belfast so that he could look at it with fresh eyes, which gave him a new appreciation of it.  

[quote title=”Mark Cousins – Director”]When you know somewhere and you see only bits of it appearing in the media – in this case, the war aspect has been appearing in the media for twenty, thirty years now – it’s the other, the less easily defined, bits like the colour, the sound and the humour, the femaleness, the disjointedness, that you want to try and get into a film about it.[/quote]

Cousins cites his inspirations for his approach as Soviet cinema, popular song, and the storytelling of his grandmothers, and grandmothers everywhere. I am Belfast recalls films like Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City and Patrick Keiller’s London and Robinson in Space; getting deep into the heart of a place to bring something different to our understanding of it.

Both political and romantic, not drama and not quite documentary, I am Belfast offers a new and passionate portrayal of this inspirational city. It reminds us all how deeply the essence of our home towns can remain within us, even when we have left them and they continue to change in our absence.

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