[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
Renown, undercover journalist Donal MacIntyre has investigated football hooligans, club drug dealing, the heroin trade, and Spanish greyhound racing, to name just a few. Through his popular BBC show, “MacIntyre Undercover,” he’s received numerous deaththreats, been forced to move into safehouses, and sued the Police for libel, later giving his winnings to charity. With this colorful bank of experience, MacIntyre brings his film, “A Very British Gangster,” to Sundance’s World Documentary competition. Following gangster Dominic Noonan (aka Lattalay Fottfoy), MacIntyre shows the life of a neighborhood patriarch as he balances criminal proceedings against protecting his interests with his own form of justice and deep sense of loyalty.
Please introduce yourself. Where were you born, and where do you live now? What were some of your previous jobs?
My background is in investigative reporting and current affairs. I am an accidental filmmaker in many respects – I didn’t go to film school but learnt the skill of story telling through newspapers and reporting on screen.
From war reporting to undercover exposes I have led a hectic journalistic career. It started out with catching “All The Presidents Men” and Lou Grant as a young kid growing up in Ireland and since then I have carried the cross of investigative journalism on my back. At one journalism event I told Ed Asner (Lou Grant) this and he said “please don’t make me complicit in that crime”.
Stories on the trade in human organs, the trafficking of human sex slaves, football hooliganism and abuse in care homes was my daily job. Of the last 12 years I have spend six of them undercover. Because of the job and the threats which emanated from it I have at various times have had to have body guards. Since 2000 I have moved from home in the UK for security reasons more than 40 times. Most of my work has been for the BBC but my work has appeared on Discovery and CBS in the US.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the movie?
The risks we take as journalists are sometimes physical or ethical – rarely creative. “A Very British Gangster” represented for me risks on all those fronts. I entered the world of one of Britain’s leading crime family’s – this was a world which had threatened me and my family. I was entering the lions’ den.
How did the initial idea for “A Very British Gangster” come about?
In a British Court room, Dominic Noonan, the head of the Noonan crime family, casually told me that his brother (a known hit-man) had been offered a contract to kill me.
From that uneasy start I was determined to reveal his world – a world, not unlike “The Sopranos,” albeit with Manchester accents. To do it responsibly, without ever crossing the line was the challenge that, perhaps came easier to me than others. Over the years I have grown used to these men. I would not be intimidated or seduced by their world. It is important in the world of gangsters that the gangster respects you and understands you won’t be bullied or corrupted.
Through this bizarre encounter I had accidentally hit upon the “way of the documentary.” This time I followed the people-trail rather than the evidential-trail. Inspired by the work of Studs Terkil, an underbelly of British society was revealed to me – a strata where communities are forced to rely on gangsters for justice, social support and security when the Police and other Government agencies abandon them.
Describe the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance. Where were you, and how did you react?
Sundance is simply our nirvana as story tellers. Like so many filmmakers we overwork and over stress and when we heard we were selected I was simply silent for a few minutes. I was in the Natural History Museum in London making an anti-smoking commercial and the crew were seeking direction from me – and for once nothing was forthcoming.
What are you goals for the festival?
It’s our Olympics and the taking part is really the key. Being able to talk to directors and producers and see the amazing stuff in all categories from around the world is my target.
What is your definition of independent film?
For me an independent film has a hunger and a drive to it. It radiates and fizzles with the energy of a newly arrived immigrant in Staten Island, out to prove itself with little support, save the oxygen of imagination and the vision of excited eyes.
What are your New Year’s resolutions?
For the New Year I want to read more books, watch more films and listen to more music. Ahead of me I’ve got Sundance, the birth of my first child and the Waterboys in concert (in that order) – what more could a man want.
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