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Program Spotlight: We Had Each Other, dir. by Kelly Gallagher

Program 1: Saturday April 9th, 2:30pm
We Had Each Other, directed by Kelly Gallagher. Synopsis by filmmaker: Sisterhood and solidarity nourished the thirty-two Irish Republican women POWs at Armagh Gaol (jail) in 1980, as they embarked on a transgressive, challenging, and oft-overlooked No-Wash protest against British Colonialism.

Kelly Gallagher’s filmography is the perfect response to our current historical moment, in both its subject matter and filmmaking techniques. Our society, computerized and (meta)data-driven as it is, obscures the relationships between labor and capital, individuals and institutions, the real and the symbolic. As a result, value is reduced from moral truths to metrics in the form of digits on bank statements and credit reports; individuals’ success is prioritized over social progress; media’s worth is measured by viral shareability. As films are increasingly reduced to uncanny, computer-generated facsimiles of humanity, Gallagher’s work re-centers the human experience— of her subjects, and of her production processes.


First and foremost in We Had Each Other is the understanding that justice and freedom are moral necessities to be defended if threatened— and fought for if taken. The film shares this ethos with some of Gallagher’s previous films, like FROM ALLY TO ACCOMPLICE (2015) and More Dangerous Than a Thousand Rioters (2016). We Had Each Other does not coldly report information as a disinterested outsider; nor does it frame details as fodder for wide-eyed amazement or head-shaking pity. Instead, the film explores the actions by the prisoners of Armagh Gaol, including smearing feces and menstrual blood on their cell walls, as viable tactics for reconfirming bodily autonomy and power among political prisoners. A quote on-screen in the film tells us, “Prison officers felt defiled by coming into contact with the prisoners, and the bodies of the women of Armagh became not only polluted by that which had power to pollute...”


In validating this model of political protest, the film also emphasizes collective rather than individual action. The film’s title is the clearest marker of this message, as is one of its most striking images: several pairs of anonymous hands reaching toward each other in front of a pale blue sky, reaching but never quite grasping. On-screen text and archival voiceover narrates the primary story of the film, as symbolic recreations by Gallagher and others carry the visuals. While the images we see in the recreations do not match the actions described, they embody and visualize the emotional experiences of solidarity and sisterhood.


Furthermore, the film’s form points to another kind of collectivity— that of the motion image medium itself. Many of the images are shown in overscanned 16mm frames, reminding the audience that even in film-viewing, the movement we perceive is the cumulative effect of many frames and not merely an individual image. The images’ coherence and power come from their being joined together.


These techniques, which foreground the filmmaking process and, by extension, the filmmaker herself, are emblematic of Gallagher’s film work. In this film as in her many handmade animation films, Gallagher makes clear the mechanisms and processes by which her films are made, rather than obfuscate the labor expended as traditional narrative films do. This seems an appropriate parallel to the subject of We Had Each Other, a nearly-forgotten story of protest against Colonialism by Irish Republican women. By giving these women a platform to be remembered, Gallagher proves that the value of a story is not in how easily it can be converted in profit or memes, but in how deeply it resonates with justice-seeking humanity.


Joining We Had Each Other in Program 1 are more films that center community and memory, their broad definitions and their limits. Wilderness Days (dir. by Jason Younkman), Washington, D.C. (dir. by Tomas Csonka) and Love letter to Glasgow (dir. by Myria Christophini) explore different avenues of experiencing and defining the city. XCTRY (dir. by Bill Brown) formally refigures the travelogue, while Larama (dir. by Luciana Decker) uses the familiarity of home to locate a meditation on the sky. Mam’s Old Chair (dir. by Sheena Walsh), Black&White (dir. by Eluned Zoe Aiano & Anna Benner), Displaced (dir. by Alex Mendez Giner), and REVER (See Again) (dir. by Raquel Gandra) tell personal and shared historical stories; Flashbacks (dir. by Dominic Angerame) finds memory within the discarded artifacts of the film production process itself. Red Wisdom (dir. by Hossein Moradizadeh), Wasuremono (The Forgotten) (dir. by Mina Cruz), and Someplace in Time (dir. by Scott Palazzo) use animation to re-tell stories from mythology and literature.


You can also see Kelly Gallagher’s Poco Allegretto in Program 3 (Sunday, April 10 @ 2:30pm).

-Billy Palumbo                        

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