Skip to main content

The West awakes: The Pipe

Linda O'Brien - High

The West awakes.

After the last twelve months or so, finding an Irishman with any degree of faith in his government is an almost impossible task but at heart most of us still have some belief that if we have right on our side, we will be protected by those sworn to do so. Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s documentary lays this theory to waste as he follows the ‘Shell to Sea’ campaign and the ordinary Irish people whose democratic rights were trampled by the relentless march of progress.

Director and local boy O’Domhnaill follows the struggle of The Rossport Five (local men jailed over their reluctance to cooperate with Shell’s proposals) and the wider community as they battle to change the planned route of the Corrib gasline from destroying the local environment and in the case of the fishermen, their livelihood. After the BP oil spill, this has become an even more relevant and wide-reaching saga but is perhaps even more affecting for its demonstration of how a small community can be torn apart by the machinations of big business as the campaign splits into factions and local policemen turn on their neighbours.

Given that Shell have declined to participate in the film, The Pipe of course is a one-sided argument but the lack of embellishment means that I didn’t find this problematic. O’Domhnaill never editorialises and the captions used for exposition are neutral. Further to this I would argue that although Shell don’t actively contribute to the film, their presence invades every scene like a cold mist hanging over Rossport. Occasionally this atmosphere manifests itself more solidly in the eerily disembodied voices broadcasting over ship radio or the silent, impassive anonymity of their security forces. Here, Shell is the ghost at the feast.

The Pipe is an important piece of filmmaking but it should also be commended for its craft. So many documentaries look lost on the big screen but O’Domhnaill has made a film with genuine cinematic swagger. There are some beautiful widescreen aerial shots scattered throughout and in general, the film looks fantastic. The sequence in which local fisherman Pat O’Donnell attempts to protect his equipment from the huge mining vessel in particular shows an eye for the cinematic set-piece rarely seen in documentary.

This is a story that deserves a wide audience- compelling and exciting as a piece of entertainment but with a message that should not be ignored. Like the bogland of Rossport, we may appear to be standing on solid ground but dig a little deeper and everything collapses.

- Linda O’Brien