Directed by Des Henderson and narrated by Liam Neeson, How to Defuse a Bomb: The Project Children Story is an effective documentary focusing on the Project Children charity. The charity was founded in 1975 by an Irish immigrant bomb squad policeman named Denis Mulcahy, with the intent of bringing Irish children to live with host families for six weeks during the summer as a small respite from the sectarian violence of The Troubles.
For that first year Mulcahy raises enough funds for only six children – both Protestant and Catholic. The documentary is built from interviews with the parents who chose to host the children, but is also marvelously peppered with vintage footage of the children. Sometimes it is simple home video, and other times it is professional television footage, but this technique certainly lends authority to the story, as you get to see the adults talk about their experience in the present, and then see their childhood selves do the same in the past.
The purpose of the charity, and by extension the film, is to reveal to the children that a non-violent life was possible, and that sectarian hatred was bizarre and worthless, not as commonplace and accepted as it was in Belfast. The film tells an inspiring story of tolerance and understanding, and crystallizes the idea that children learn to ape the hatred of their environment, so it is crucial to show them that other ways of thought exist.
How to Defuse a Bomb is powerful documentary filmmaking, and certainly sports a strong style and an affecting point-of-view. Though it deals with a specifically Irish issue, it is not hard to apply the teachings of this film to similar problem around the world today.
Sunday, March 5, 8:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto Irish Film Festival website.