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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame documentary on 1916 Irish Rebellion wins Irish 'Emmy'

A documentary produced by Notre Dame’s Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies — “1916: The Irish Rebellion,” a film featuring the story of the Easter Rising in Dublin — was named the “Best Documentary Series” at the 2016 Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA) ceremony Friday.

“It’s really like the Irish equivalent of the Emmy’s,” Christopher Fox, director of the Keough-Naughton Institute, said.

The three-part film series portrays the events leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising, when a small group of Irish rebels challenged the rule of the British Empire. Though the Irish lost the struggle, the subsequent executions of the conspirators aroused nationalist sentiment across the country and the Easter Rising inspired a number of rebellions by oppressed groups worldwide.

And now, the film has been spreading the rebels’ story across the globe, Fox said.

“The Keough-Naughton Institute has been bringing Ireland to Notre Dame and Notre Dame to Ireland for over 20 years now,” he said.

The documentary utilized a combination of archival footage, new film segments and interviews with experts. It premiered in the U.S. at a gala held at Notre Dame last March attended by students, faculty, staff, filmmakers, donors and celebrities — including Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson and Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson, who narrated the film.

“We were excited just to be nominated,” he said. “To win it — that was a wonderful moment of affirmation for a lot of people’s work.”

Briona Nic Dhiarmada, professor of Irish studies and film, theater and television, wrote and created the film. She and Fox were co-executive producers of the work.

They had no idea the effects the film would have — on Ireland and other parts of the world, Fox said.

“The Irish government was so happy with it that they — and this was an individual film, we did it ourselves — asked to use it as a centerpiece of their celebration of 1916 globally, “ he said.

Fox said he met an Irish couple who told him they made their teenage son watch the premiere of the first segment of the documentary on television.

“They told me they actually had to make it seem like he was under duress to make him watch it on a Wednesday night,” Fox said.

The first part of the film showed again on Sunday in Ireland, Fox said. And the couple returned from a shopping trip to find their son watching the documentary with a group of his friends.

“There’s something about television as a medium for telling history,” Fox said. “Those kids aren’t going to show the same interest in a big history textbook.”

Fox said the documentary was shown on 453 PBS channels across the U.S. last spring.

“It’s hit 92 percent of U.S. households,” he added.

The film was also shown on five continents, Fox said, and was picked up by BBC in the United Kingdom and other networks in France, Vietnam, Argentina and many other countries.

Now, the Keough-Naughton Institute has partnered with the Irish government to launch “Reframing 1916,” a series of academic events hosted at universities, museums and institutions around the world. The events consist of panel discussions led by Notre Dame faculty and a screening of an 86-minute feature-film version of the documentary — all designed to inform and engage people about the historical significance of the Irish stand in 1916.

Fox returned to South Bend on Tuesday, after a weekend at a conference in Monaco.

“This film has really enabled us to bring Ireland to the world,” he said. “It’s education on a global scale.”

The documentary received a 97 percent approval rating on Twitter, Fox said. Though nothing is official, there is talk about nominating it for an Emmy Award, he said.

“It’s gone well beyond anything I ever expected,” he said.

The best part of it all, Fox said, was being able to have an impact on the Irish culture.

“Briona was getting gas outside of Dublin,” he said. “And somebody came up to her who knew who she was and said, ‘Thank you for giving us our history back.’”

It’s only fitting that Notre Dame — a school with deep ties to Ireland — was the school to produce the film, Fox said.

“Everything was of the highest caliber, as it should be at Notre Dame,” he said. “When was the last time something based in our teaching and research has been seen by millions of people worldwide?”