2021 marks 100 years since the formation of Northern Ireland, established officially on 3 May 1921.
23 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, young adults are emerging from Ireland, never having known a united Ireland. Questioning identity via European connectivity; investigations into faith and state and the politics that change our relationship with sexuality, body autonomy and human rights means new positions and voices are emerging. This is happening through intergenerational exchanges; governance restructuring and through press and social media. At street level we are witnessing manifestations of the best and worst of our society. Ever at the apex of such discourse are artists and their creative expressions. Here we speak to two young makers who are using their position as ‘northern creatives’ to generate work, question the status quo and make us think.
Cal Freeman (CF) is a writer and film director from Armagh, now based in Manchester. He grew up Catholic, in the North of Ireland. “I was raised Irish, whereas friends of mine were raised British”. This skewed and -at times- political understanding of identity was “further complicated” when he realised he wasn’t straight. “I built a sense of identity by rejecting popular ﬁlm and media narratives”, which inspired Cal to create relatable stories, inclusive of diverse audiences.
CF: I like to focus on telling stories that unravel the joys and struggles caused by contradictions in our identities. I pull together ideas of cultural pride and heritage, love, family and justice. My documentary The Son You Raised looked at a Liverpudlian’s life in the context of ‘80s politics (and the related attitudes to LGBTQIA+ people) with the hope of educating and inspiring diverse audiences. This piece was selected by Leeds Queer Film Festival 2020 and contributed to being selected for competitive schemes such as Edinburgh TV Festival’s The Network 2020 and The Grierson Trust’s DocLab 2021.
Irish? Protestant? Catholic?
For many people, to say you are from ‘Northern Ireland’ or ‘Northern Irish’ signiﬁes that you identify as ‘Protestant’ and/or ‘British’. While neither of these titles represent me, I believe being Irish and Catholic in the north -by and of itself- feels different to being from the Republic. This used to leave me feeling torn between spaces.
Studying in England allowed me to examine these feelings from the outside. Bonding with British-identifying students from NI (commonly viewed as Irish in England), with modern attitudes, provided constructive conversations around identity. Researching Ireland’s history and the formation of the North, angered and saddened me. It also led to the idea of reclaiming space within the North that -whilst conflicted- is my home. I -like many Catholics and Protestants- remain impacted and influenced by the Troubles. I do not wish to disregard the importance of what happened. Instead, I feel that the north of Ireland -or Northern Ireland- should work to embrace all Catholic and Protestant communities. It is my opinion that we have more in common with each other than other nationalities share and we should find (or create) more common ground to represent the hybrid nature of the north’s entangled identity.
Hold the Sausage
My most recent project Hold the Sausage is a comedic coming out story (commissioned by New Creatives, funded by BBC Arts and Arts Council England). It’s a wholesome story, highlighting authentic, intricate characters from rural homes in the north of Ireland, simultaneously improving visibility for those often under-represented on screen. Irish culture -and its ability to use humour to navigate complex subjects- is reﬂected in its comedy, contributing towards a positive understanding about northerners today.
Chloe Muldoon (actor and Cal’s friend) was able to identify and portray the characters I envisioned with the specific nuances they needed. We grew up together in Armagh. She was completely up for the challenge of playing all four characters. We worked tirelessly finessing the characters; considering how they dressed, sat, spoke and laughed to help diﬀerentiate them on-screen. This format was a risk we’re glad to have taken. It strengthens the comedic punches of the storyline as well as pushing filmmaking boundaries.
Whilst authenticity is important, the reality is it isn’t always possible. We struggled to find Northern Irish talent in northern England, who also identified as LGBTQIA+. This is a reminder of the underrepresentation of Northern Irish artists telling their own narratives.
Hold the Sausage has enabled me to create a personal work, whilst allowing audiences to see my approach and ambitions in filmmaking and storytelling. The chance to seize full creative control -and direct my own storyline- has powered my aspiration for creating and directing more inclusive and Irish focused storylines.
Chloe Muldoon (CM) is an actor, deviser and vocalist from Tyrone in the north of Ireland. Having studied Drama and Theatre at Trinity College, Dublin she moved to Manchester then Toxteth, Liverpool to continue her studies.
CM: Dublin’s impact artistically, socially and academically became extremely personal. Although I thought Ireland was my home -and studying in the south wouldn’t be that different- there was a culture shock that led to questioning my identity. What was highlighted was the beauty and individuality of ‘those from the north’ and how our characteristics, mannerisms and ‘way of going on’ is unique. There are familiarities between the north and south, absolutely; but there is something so hearty about rural, north of Ireland living as opposed to anywhere else. We’ve tried to reflect this in Hold the Sausage.
The script is an intergenerational conversation. It highlights different attitudes, whilst addressing tradition, sexuality and identity issues that -I think- still exist today, especially in Irish Catholic households. There can be feelings of liminality -an in-betweenness- and sense of unknowing. Saoirse -a young gay girl; in a relationship and devoid of religious references or conformity- presents a new, fresh voice and neutrality we all could learn from. On the flip side, gaining confidence to take this space -authentically- is a journey; one I think is still unﬁnished for me.
What can evolve very easily -as a result of being from the north of Ireland- is an ‘identity crisis’ narrative. I would like to explore this further, alongside other important topics such as sexual violence. I’m beginning my MA in Media and Culture at University of Liverpool this year. I aim to engage with intersectionality via gender studies, culture, media and the politics of arts;, interests I link with my relationship with Ireland.
Cal and Chloe are in the research stages for a new piece. What they know for certain is that they want to remain -thematically- on Irish/Northern Irish identity against the UK backdrop. They are undecided as to whether it will be audio-visual or spoken word. Together, they are exploring literal understandings and representations of identity, identifying and listening to individuals with a relationship with the north of Ireland, especially youth groups.
As artists, Cal and Chloe hope that the Festival will open up a dialogue with other artists and individuals with similar stories to share. “It is important that we remain collaborative and open-minded to these conversation with others in Liverpool and beyond”.
Photography: Anastasia Arsentyev and Finn Varney