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Deciding to make a film on immigration was hard - including anti-immigration group was harder

“Do you deny people whose views you find repulsive the oxygen of publicity or do you engage in the hope of teasing out some of the contradictions?”

“DO YOU WANT to make a documentary about race in Ireland?”

My immediate answer was “No”.

The deadline was tight, the budget tighter still. But more seriously, I didn’t feel like I was the best-qualified filmmaker to take on such a complex, difficult subject.

How could someone born into a privileged white Irish background really understand the multi-layered nature of being black and Irish, Roma and Irish, or Arab and Irish?

Jamie D’Alton and Anne McLoughlin, producers at Motive TV who had been commissioned by RTE 2 to make the project, managed to overcome my misgivings and persuaded me (or tricked me, depending on your point of view) to take the job on. I’m very grateful to them for their persistence.

So began a long journey, of coffees and meetings, in Cork and Waterford, Balbriggan, Blanchardstown and Tallaght, as myself and producer Sorcha Glackin met and talked to people originally from other countries who had been living here for years. All of their stories were fascinating, but we only had a single programme to make, so we know we would have to choose carefully.

We had a broad editorial brief, but we were specifically interested in the issues that surround race, so white immigrants from Britain or Europe were off our radar. And as we travelled around, I realised that the generation of ethnic minority kids, who came here in the 1990s with their parents, were finally entering adulthood.

And so we finally settled on our I Am Immigrant five – Ricardo, the twenty-year-old Roma who dreams of being a Garda; Egyptian Elham, working for Google, and waiting on a visa for her Egyptian husband who had endured a violent racist assault; Adam, Dublin-born to Syrian parents, fearful of a growing hostility to Muslims in Europe; Shaila, a singer and actress from Tallaght who is half Jamaican and a quarter traveller and Boni, an eloquent student from Nigeria who was running for the Presidency of DITSU, the biggest students’ union in the country.

elhamosman2 Elham Osman, one of the featured immigrants in tonight's programme - she works for Google in Dublin and is waiting on a visa for her Egyptian husband. Motive Television Motive Television

It was with no little trepidation that I encountered our sixth character. Peter O’Loughlin of Identity Ireland and Pegida Ireland has a number of views that most of us would find repellent. Pegida are an anti-immigration and anti-Islam protest group in Germany who have been linked with hate speech and attacks on migrants.

It’s a difficult dilemma for any filmmaker. Do you deny people whose views you find repulsive the oxygen of publicity, or do you engage in the hope of teasing out some of the contradictions and the darker side of their organisations?

We took the latter option, and found ourselves plunged into the centre of a dramatic day in Dublin, when anti-fascist protestors took to the streets to challenge the Pegida protesters, most peacefully, a minority physically.

Witnessing violence at close quarters is a strange experience. As a filmmaker, knowing that you have exclusive footage of violent direct action is exciting. As a human being it can leave you conflicted and torn. Editorially it presents a real challenge. When editing I Am Immigrant, we were determined to avoid the pitfalls of propagandising. We needed to show the full context of what happened on 6 February 6 in Dublin.

We caught unguarded moments that show how Pegida may have perversely welcomed the attack on them, and in that context we were happy to include our footage.

But the modern media landscape requires you to send out little clips of your film that will attract social media attention, hopefully driving viewers to the programme. But short clips never reflect the overall editorial thrust of an hour-long documentary.

6/2/2016. Anti Racist Protests The Garda Public Order Unit in Dublin city centre on 6 February this year.

Already people are complaining about I Am Immigrant on Twitter – despite having not seen the programme.  We hope they will give it a chance.

I Am Immigrant was hard to make. We finished the film last night after weeks of late-night editing with Iseult Howlett, just one day before its broadcast. The stories it contains are important ones, stories that shock you one minute, and warm your heart the next.

It was a challenging project, but one that I’m very glad to have been part of.

Luke McManus is director of I Am Immigrant, showing tonight on RTÉ2 at 9.30pm

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