SEAMS

Seams is a personal essay film and animated oral history about borders, identity, and cultures in transition. The project began through a fascination with military parachutes that led me on a historical journey investigating Irish and Northern Irish women’s labor during the Second World War. Told through the voices of women who endured and overcame cultural divisions in neutral Ireland, partitioned Northern Ireland, and war-torn Britain, Seams is a cautionary tale about the dangers of both nationalism and colonialism. Yet it is also a hopeful look at a culture’s movement from conflict toward peace. 

 

Seams visually weaves the past, the present, the real, and the imagined, through an approach much like a graphic novel, an illustrated travel journal, or a letter to home. A film in three acts with a prologue and a conclusion, the story visually unfolds through portraiture, archival footage, poetic live-action shots of landscapes and buildings, and hand drawn stop-motion animation made with tea and ink on Irish linen. Linen is a significant material in Ireland. It fuelled Northern Ireland’s industrialized economy and was used in much of the war industry for its strength and resilience. 

The beauty and the draw of the parachute is the beginning of a look into its creation, its use, and its cultural meaning. It leads me to ask, “Whose hands made this object?” My question sends me on a journey through Ireland and Northern Ireland, unfolding a much larger story than my original inquiry. 

My search leads me to Margaret, a Northern Irish Protestant who sewed the seams of linen parachutes. I also meet Ruby, a Protestant linen mill worker from Belfast, and then Joan and Elsie, two Irish Catholic soldiers in the British Army (ATS) from Co. Cork, and finally Jane, an Irish Catholic nurse in London from Co. Clare.

The women’s stories weave throughout time, as they remember the horrors of the Second World War and the tragedy of the Northern Irish Troubles. The animation makes visceral the women’s testimonies, and we feel the tensions they face as young women workers within a divided, fledgling society during a global war. We journey with them as they speak about the complexities of religious and national discrimination and its alienating affects on their lives. We feel their joy of friendships made across Catholic and Protestant divides, and we mourn the violence that later came from these deep-seated divisions. We look in horror at the human toll of aerial bombardment as Ruby and Jane describe the blood and destruction during the Battle of Britain. We think about war’s aftermath and question our own definitions of “enemy”, as Elsie recounts her experience with the ATS in Hamburg after the war, a city destroyed by Allied firebombing. However, much like the durability of linen, the women maintained a strength, resilience, and incredible love of life in the midst of all of the hardship.

The research advisers to the film include Dr. Mary Muldowney whose book, The Second World War and Irish Women: An Oral History was the first comprehensive look at the war's impact on the lives of Irish women. She is an authority on oral history in Ireland and founding member of the Oral History Network of Ireland.