Northern Ireland

Film on north Belfast New Lodge residents lands major prize at international film festival

The Flats focuses on the impact of the Troubles on tower block residents, and is set for release later this year

A photo of Joe McNally and his dog, Freedom
New Lodge resident Joe McNally, appearing in award-winning documentary The Flats.

A documentary about residents of high-rise tower blocks in north Belfast has won the top prize at a prestigious film festival in Denmark.

The Flats, by Italian director Alessandra Celesia, was named winner of the main Dox:Award at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen.

Set for release later this year, the powerful film follows several residents of the flats in the New Lodge, chronicling their lives and crucially, their memories of the Troubles.

The documentary centres on Joe McNally and several of his neighbours, and also features reenacted scenes from his childhood.

The wake scene from The Flats, featuring Sean Parker as young Joe
A re-enactment scene from The Flats.

It is a joint production between France’s Films de Force Majeure, Dublin’s Planet Korda Pictures, the UK’s Dumbworld Productions, and Thank You & Good Night Productions in Belgium.

The CPH:DOX awards ceremony came at the climax of the festival, which kicked off in the Danish capital on March 13.

The awards jury said the Dox:Award “recognises not only creative and conceptual daring, but a filmmaker with the humility to realise when the story outgrows its framework, and the confidence to follow where it, and its fantastically vivid characters lead”.

“We live in a world of divisions, borders and locked gates,” the panel said.

“Coming like a conversation shouted through one of those locked gates, our winning film is a collective portrait of several proud, funny, resourceful individuals, who would be willing to die for their community but who choose each day the harder, braver and more hopeful option of living for it instead.”

A photo of Alessandra Celesia
Filmmaker Alessandra Celesia. (Miguel Bueno)

Accepting the award and a cash prize of €10,000, Ms Celesia said: “I don’t know if I have faith that films can change the world, but it’s brilliant to be a part of this amazing community, thank you so much.”

The film has been praised by reviewers, including The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who called it a “powerful, urgent and deeply sad film”.

Ms Celesia, who previously directed 2012 documentary The Bookseller of Belfast, and whose husband is from the north of the city, said of her latest film in a recent interview with the Irish News: “My aim was not to make a ‘political’ film, you know, but just to see the consequences of trauma.

“I thought, if we could get to the bottom of that, maybe it could represent the long-term consequences of many other wars as well.”

Meanwhile, BBC documentary series Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland has been nominated for four Bafta TV awards, including for Best Factual Series. The award ceremony will take place on May 12.