Film

“The Peacemaker”: Convincing Sworn Enemies to Sit, Drink, and Talk

James Demo’s documentary follows the efforts of Padraig O’Malley, who convinced warring factions in Northern Ireland to share a pint

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James Demo’s The Peacemaker is an intense, intimate portrait of a visionary capable of sophisticated analysis, abrupt anger, self-deprecating wit, and profound insights — all while existing at considerable remove from his fellow man.

Padraig O’Malley’s peacemaking efforts debuted in 1975 when, dejected by the troubles in Northern Ireland, he hit on “a colossal and simple idea”: gathering sworn enemies, on the brink of civil war, to a drinking summit in Boston. For a week, day and night, the Dublin-born O’Malley kept liquor flowing through his Cambridge, Massachusetts, pub, the Plough and Stars. “You can find a relationship with a few jars in ya, you know?” according to Loyalist Glenn Barr, who was there.

O’Malley, a professor of peace and reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is now a teetotaler, and he has formalized his peacemaking programming with bottles of water on the table instead of beer, applying it to conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.

“I’m pretty good at getting my ‘maybes’ into realities,” O’Malley says, though the documentary doesn’t explore how effective his efforts have actually been — the Irish conflict resolved years later, one colleague suggests his tactics led to a premature agreement in Iraq, and the film grants short shrift to the conflict resolution work of O’Malley’s ex-partner Patricia Keefer.

O’Malley can be off-putting, yet he’s also often enchanting. “I don’t think I love anybody,” he says, in one of the film’s most wrenching moments. Then again, it may be that he cares about everybody.

The Peacemaker
Directed by James Demo
Opens February 9, Cinema Village

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