Director Edmund Lynch’s new documentary film A Different Country will premiere later this month at GAZE International Film Festival, one of the largest LGBTQ film festivals in the world. Specifically made to screen GAZE, the roughly hour-long documentary focuses tells the life stories of older LGBTQ people, and their experiences growing up in a country that was so homophobic, it considered their sexualities a crime.
Edmund Lynch began this massive undertaking in 2013, out of a belief that someone needed to document Irish LGBT history. A disarming and chatty older man, Lynch explained his motivation for the project when I sat down with him for an interview: “I believe that history tells us what happened in the past, and that it’s important that we don’t lose things of the past. Like for example, women were written out of 1916, and suddenly we have women historians, suddenly we have the internet, and suddenly they were restored to the proper place in history, and it’s the same way with the LGBT people. It’s been forgotten.”
This film, then, is intended to be an exercise in archival work, preserving the stories of the nascent LGBT rights movement and the people who lived in a society far less accepting than it is today, indeed, in a different country—hence the title of the film.
In the three years spent on the project, Lynch conducted the interviews that would eventually come to make up the film, eventually finishing with 165 interviewees, including two former Irish presidents. Pulling from hundreds of hours of content, Lynch and his editor selected just 18 interviews to end up in the film, including that of former President Mary Robinson, who signed into law the 1993 bill decriminalising homosexuality.
The film features a wide variety of gay, lesbian, and transgender people, many of them former activists in the budding gay rights movement. (No other LGBT identities are represented in this documentary, apparently because no one in those groups volunteered to be interviewed, except for one bisexual man whose interview was not used.) Through these interviews, the film presents a narrative both chronological and thematic: it moves through the history of the LGBT rights movement at the same time as it moves through such familiar themes as discovering one’s sexuality or gender, growing up and coming out. All the ways in which many people struggled, and others were lucky enough to not have to, are laid out in this cross-section of a generation.
In an explanation of the process he used to conduct interviews, Lynch commented, “I was out to tell people’s histories, and what life looked like to them.” For all of its concern with the broader history of the LGBT movement—only natural, given that Lynch was one of the movement’s founding members, organising out of Trinity College in 1973—the focus of the project is ultimately on the individual.
Certainly, the film provides multiple lessons on the history of the LGBT movement; for example, in its section about the AIDS crisis, one activist explains that he was involved with his organisation’s effort to smuggle condoms—illegal until 1980, and requiring a prescription until 1985—into the country. Yet it always grounds such facts in the feelings and experiences of the people living them. The story of the condom-smuggling is not just about the logistics of safer sex campaigns, it’s about the urgency and emotional struggle of organising to combat a threat that Ireland’s LGBT community had some time to see coming, but not enough resources to effectively fight. Through this emotional and personal lens, the film gives a personalised look at every aspect of LGBT history that it touches on.
Yet for all its historical focus, the film is also a project relevant to today. A full year after the passage of the marriage referendum, Ireland today is a country once unimaginable to most of those interviewed in the film. Yet as Lynch explained, however well-attended Pride may have been this year, that’s not all there is: “Not everything is won easy enough by just coming out one day a year and waving your flag and everything else. What about the people who are working at it every day? What about the people who end up being in marriages which aren’t suitable for them, which cause problems for them and the person they married? And then again, you also have problems where a lot of young people commit suicide, because they’ve been rejected. And how any man or woman can reject their own child is beyond me. It’s unthinkable. But it happens.”
Actually, the film covers the event that later developed into to Dublin Pride: the Gay Rights Protest March, which came as a furious response to the gay-bashing murder of Declan Flynn in Fairview Park in 1982. Considered by many to be the first large-scale demonstration for gay rights in Dublin, several of those interviewed recalled the pain and anger of the community—and their own pain and anger. Several of them knew Declan Flynn personally.
Ireland has undoubtedly made vast strides in a relatively short amount of time, but as Lynch pointed out, people are still dying. Unquestionably, some work remains to be done—work which, in preserving LGBT history, this project strives to be a part of.
A Different Country isn’t the end of Lynch’s project, either, any more than the marriage referendum was the end of the struggle; after all, there are 137 unused interviews sitting on the hard drive of his editor, Kevin Cooney. Lynch already has his end goal in mind: using all of the interviews across seven total films, each separated by generation, in order to create a window into the whole of modern Irish LGBT history, and more importantly, the people who lived it.
When are these six other documentaries, each focused on a different generation of Irish LGBT people, coming out? It depends. “The timeline is, I need money,” Lynch explained. Although he himself does not keep a single cent from the project, he has other people he needs to pay for their work: “I didn’t want any money. But I do want to pay my camera man, I do want to pay my editor… I’ve been paying people to be using their spaces. And I do want to pay people who transcribe, because it’s not their project. It’s my project. I developed it, so that for gay and non-gay people in the future, we have some record of what our life was.”
Only the first film has been made so far; according to Lynch, completing the series will cost €28,000, which he and the Irish LGBT History Project are still trying to raise via donation. In the meantime, A Different Country is one of the most anticipated highlights of the GAZE Film Festival, especially as one of only two Irish-made features in a festival that places a huge emphasis on spotlighting Irish cinema. The film will have its worldwide premiere on Friday 29th July, at 4.30pm. Edmund Lynch himself will be at GAZE’s screening to answer questions about the film, and to try to raise money to make the rest of them.
For more information about the film, or for donation inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on GAZE Film Festival, where A Different Country premieres, see gaze.ie.
Words: Madeleine Calvi