Amnesty International Film Festival: Irish village fights Shell pipeline, police, government, and itself in The Pipe
A documentary by Risteard O Domhnaill. Unrated. Plays Sunday, November 20, at the 16th annual Amnesty International Film Festival, SFU Harbour Centre, Room 1425, 6:55 p.m.
Community resistance to unjust governments or corporate behemoths, whether because of issues of human justice or environmental degradation, are documented in several films at this year’s Amnesty International film fest. The Pipe details the struggle of the people of one small village against a tag team made up of both of those formidable opponents.
The inhabitants of Rossport, situated in a small bay on Ireland’s northwest coast, have the misfortune of being in the way of a proposed pipeline that would transport raw natural gas, under high pressure, from undersea deposits to a refinery nine kilometres inland.
The pipeline and its construction would damage or threaten an environmentally sensitive peat bog, a salmon-spawning stream, and fishing and crabbing grounds. It would also run through local farmers’ properties and restrict villagers’ traditional access to recreational seashore activities and shellfish harvesting.
Told mainly through the voices and protest actions of a local farmer, his wife, a fisherman, and a fiery schoolteacher, The Pipe takes viewers through years of community meetings, blockades, arrests, and internal dissent as Shell E&P Ireland and the Irish government (with the full weight of police and even the navy) work together to wear down the activists striving to maintain their way of life.
Eventually, the villagers split into factions of those committed to civil disobedience and those who are willing to accept the inevitability of the project and work within the legal system to guarantee environmental protection as much as is feasible and to look for other solutions, including alternate pipeline routes through uninhabited areas nearby.
Director Risteard O Domhnaill turns intimate access to the film subjects’ homes, workplaces, and meetings into a compelling portrait of how the events that can unite a community can also end up dividing it, whether it be through burnout (after years of fighting against foes with unlimited resources), temptation (some fishermen accepting Shell “compensation” payouts), or infighting over tactics.
The camera shows scuffles with police and villagers being hauled off roads and plucked out of the sea while blocking vehicles or impeding dredging efforts. (Viewers are informed at the start of the film that Shell refused to participate in the making of The Pipe.)
Through all of this, Shell continues, implacable and inexorable, ignoring laws and meeting its own timetables with a seeming guiding philosophy of “build now and pay (the piper) later”.
The villagers win some small victories, and, after eight years, the outcome is not resolved by the film’s finish, but the cynical viewer will have no doubt as to the ultimate conclusion.
Still, The Pipe is a rousing, at times even uplifting, chronicle of a David and Goliath fight that, whatever the outcome, at least enabled its participants to get on with life knowing that they didn’t surrender when the giant showed up at their door.
That knowledge—combined with the economic effect and public image-tarnishing their struggle had on Shell, as well as the blueprint for resistance they provided to other communities whose way of life might come under attack in the future—is surely worth something.