When Shell Oil decided to run a pipeline through Rossport, in northwest County Mayo, Ireland, the company did its best to convince residents the project would be in their interest. The company tried the usual sorts of tactics, cajoling, bribing, pitting neighbor against neighbor, but the community—even when they argued with one another—came to understand themselves as a force to be reckoned with, one the American corporation could not take for granted. The process of such self-understanding is at once gradual and vivid, tracked in Rísteard Ó Domhnaill’s remarkable documentary, The Pipe. Filmed over four years and available from FilmBuff beginning 15 November, the film follows the conflict and reveals the complex reactions of and interactions within the community. One longtime resident, Monica Müller, describes the encounter with Shell this way: “Rude people that don’t care tell you go away, go out… They want to build a pipeline to get from A to B.” As she sees it, “The landscape doesn’t mean anything to them. Otherwise, they would find a route that would make more sense.”
It’s this question of sense that drives the film. In 2005, Willie Corduff and four other protestors are arrested and jailed, inspiring supporters to picket outside the courthouse: “Free the Rossport Five,” read their placards, and “Strength in Community.” Graffiti tags captured by local TV cameras, read, “Shell out.” By October 2006, the Refinery Construction Site is underway, and protestors regularly stand in the way of backhoes and bulldozers. The local police force, the Gardaí, seem unprepared for the conflict, the captain insisting, “Neither I nor my guards are going to be bullied around here,” as they drag demonstrators away. The camera operator is apparently under attack as well, as the frame pitches and reels, as women scream off screen. Corduff’s voiceover describes his own reaction to the official aggression: “The more you see wrong being done, the more angrier you get.”
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