Lost Lives: An Elegy

Ania Gleich gives her thoughts on Lost Lives, a documentary film which recently premiered at the Cork Film Festival


Lost Lives, the 2019 documentary by Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt, is a cinematographic memorial for eternity. It becomes crystal clear after five minutes into the film that those stories and pictures won’t be so easy to remove again. And it is this realization that makes the film in the most unsettling way so illuminating. 

“This is a reminder of our past and for what should never happen again in the future.” These words of Corks Minister of Foreign Affairs branded themselves into my head before watching the screening of a film that remains in my memory more as a disturbing Elegy. Lost Lives is the book- “adaptation” of the 1999 Chronicle Lost Lives – The story of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles that was written by the four Journalists David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton. This book that tries to cover every one of the unnecessary deaths caused by the conflict is an unsettling memoir of a nation that “tried to commit suicide and there’s nothing that you can do about it”, as one of the victim’s mother states in a fragment of an interview shown in the movie. 

Generally, is the movie a collage of contrasting images that invoke a deeply unnerving feeling in the viewer. The ambiguity between the real and horrible archive footage and the picturesque Northern Irish landscapes that are shown provoke a crucial disturbance in the context of the passages that are read out from the book by various people in the background. Hewitt and Lavery manage it perfectly well to build up a tension that induces this certain sense of consternation that leaves you with unsureness. 

“We should have an accurate representation of our past.”, is a statement the directors raise as one aim to make this film before the screening at the 64th Cork Film Festival. And it is incredible how a film with the duration of just 1,5 hours can represent a testimonial chronicle that has over 1500 pages.  The stories the directors choose to tell from it are well selected and show an accurate picture of the senseless brutality that was mainly exercised on civilians. The 3,638 deaths from 1966 to 2000 that are covered in the book are added up with all the people yet being victimized through this conflict until the year of 2019 with Lyra McKee in the end titles. The Requiem that Lost Lives constitutes is a meaningful and urgent statement not only in the name of Northern Ireland but also in the name of any kind of Nation that fights wars on the people’s back for the sake of hate that went far beyond borders that could be justified in any way.