Northern Peacebuilders — Brendan McCOURT
by Raquel GOMEZ
12 June 2018
Shared Future News volunteer Raquel Gomez interviewed Brendan McCourt, a journalist, film maker, and producer for over 30 years, who works to empower women and young people to imagine a new vision for their communities, including through the use of virtual and augmented reality tools.
This episode is part of our series on Northern Peacebuilders — interviews with individuals whose work and efforts contribute to better community relations in Northern Ireland.
Raquel GOMEZ: Today, we meet Brendan McCourt. He’s a journalist, film maker, and producer. He also works helping to empower women and young people on the peace line, to imagine new visions for their community and to create a shared future.
Brendan McCOURT: I have been a journalist and a filmmaker in Belfast for the last 30 plus years, making work in both the newspapers, then as a producer/director in the BBC, making current affairs documentaries for many years, a lot of investigative journalism, investigating all kinds of stories, a lot of them to do with the Troubles, murders, but also social issues, like domestic violence and so on.
Recently I’ve turned to virtual reality and augmented reality as tools. They’re really just tools to tell the story in a different way. I’ve been working with young people and women’s groups on the peace lines. I made a virtual reality documentary, just telling what it’s like for young people who live in those peacelines. And I also made an interactive virtual reality experience with women’s groups. Basically, they were coming together to imagine if those walls were not there anymore, what you could create in a shared space. So really it’s helping to empower women and young people to imagine a new vision for their community and to find new ways of doing that.
Raquel GOMEZ: What impact has your work had in the community?
Brendan McCOURT: Well, as a journalist and filmmaker, and many of the films I’ve made have led to government inquiries or led to cases being reopened. And questions being asked really that weren’t asked before. So that has an impact in terms of finding truth for the community.
As regards virtual reality, I think it empowers; I hope that it gives voice to people who didn’t have a voice. For young people, women’s groups, it helps them. It helps people around to see a way of looking at things like the peace walls in a different way, to ask the question, the question that’s asked in the documentary: will the walls come down? So that’s really putting that question back to the young people who live there. And the women’s groups as to do they think they should come down, will they ever come down?
So it’s asking those questions that maybe people would prefer not to be asked.
Raquel GOMEZ: From your perspective how does virtual reality help people?
Brendan McCOURT: Well, virtual reality, augmented reality, are very new technologies. They’re still evolving. But they are very immersive, extremely visual, and they make you feel as if you’re really there.
In the future there’ll be new additions to that type of experience; I think you’ll be able to touch, smell, and perhaps even taste in some of these experiences that are coming. They’re going to become more and more effective in immersing people in an experience of feeling as if they’re really there.
The possibilities are endless. And it all adds up to a more engaging and memorable experience that will open our minds and have the power to hopefully change our thoughts and feelings and bring us closer to the action. It can be very powerful tools if they’re used in the right way.
Raquel GOMEZ: What has generally gotten better since the Good Friday Agreement?
Brendan McCOURT: Well I find that people here are generally more at ease with each other, more relaxed, particularly the younger generations. For example, in my documentary, I reveal that they’re having relationships and children right across the peace lines. I think that’s amazing and great to see.
The quality of life for everyone has got very much better. It’s far from perfect. I’m old enough to remember the bad old days when you have checkpoints, murders, riots, and a lot of fear around, and a very bleak future.
We still have a long way to go, but when you see the turmoil and trouble in other parts of the world, we have a lot to be thankful for.
We’re on the road to a more open, progressive, inclusive, creative, and diverse future. That’s great to see.
Raquel GOMEZ: What challenges remain?
Brendan McCOURT: Barriers are being broken down every day. You know, the Taoiseach visiting and being welcomed to the Orange Order headquarters in Belfast recently was fantastic.
But of course I’d love to see all the walls between us coming down. That’s not just the physical walls; that’s the invisible walls in our heads, the barriers between people. And I’d like to see disadvantaged areas of the city being transformed to create jobs, prosperity, and hope for young people.
Raquel GOMEZ: How would you like to see the general public get involved in community relations work?
Brendan McCOURT: By opposing hate and fear whenever possible.
Raquel GOMEZ: What is your vision for Northern Ireland?
Brendan McCOURT: A desirable place to live, work, and play. If somebody could just fix the weather.
Raquel GOMEZ: What human act would represent peace for you?
Brendan McCOURT: Truth, forgiveness.
Raquel GOMEZ: A wish for the future?
Brendan McCOURT: To keep on pushing it to the limit, and to keep on rolling with the punches.