Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media. This month we’ll be looking at documentaries that chart our history.
The Patriot Game is perhaps one of the most famous examples of a country’s national history and national trauma being put under the microscope. Arthur MacCaig’s opus dissects the brutal treatment of Ireland by the British, as well as exploring the various routes Irish nationalism has taken in an attempt to bring the nation back together again. Throughout his filmmaking career, Arthur would capture the fight for a unified Ireland, as well as a variety of other topics, including most notably the struggle for Basque independence. His filmography is in many ways a history of radical Europe in the mid-late 20th century. What he was not able to capture, however, was the story of his life or his family. Enter: The Image You Missed.
Directed by Donal Foreman, MacCaig’s son, The Image You Missed sees its director grapple with the legacy of his father and the hole he left in his life in order to create his iconic work. It is a personal history that explores what can happen when a cause takes over and how that can affect those closest to us. Foreman looks at the differences in him and his father, from their relationship to Irish nationalism, to the contexts of the Irelands that they live in, to their priorities in terms of personal and political responsibility.
The film spans 30 years, using archival footage to explore his father, as well as Foreman’s own home life, and the threat that having such a politically divisive figure in the family. The film poetically explores the tension between MacCaig’s role as revolutionary and parent, which clearly mattered more to him, but did he ever think about what the cost would be?
The film acts almost as an experimental essay, parsing the political from the personal, to explore a man who left his family for the pursuit of a greater cause. This is something that Foreman is critical of, but that is what makes the film so incredibly hard-hitting; the connection between director and film is intense and the subject matter could not be more personal.
As far as historical documentaries go, The Image You Missed is perhaps the perfect example of how personal histories are inexorably tied to political histories and how this can have tragic consequences. A beautiful and moving documentary, The Image You Missed takes an incredibly focused approach to the historical documentary, but one that gives strength to its story, and its director.
Header image courtesy of Arts Council Ireland