By Jacob deBlecourt
James Demo’s The Peacemaker is a film we’ve all seen before: the story of a gifted individual arrested and limited by their own vices and personal setbacks. It’s Edith Piaf’s addiction to pills in La Vie en Rose, Caravaggio’s romantic encounters in Caravaggio, or Will Hunting’s anger issues in Good Will Hunting. So what, then, made The Peacemaker stand out to me? What made me and a group of three other movie-goers spend our train ride home being vulnerable with each other? Simply put, Padraig O’Malley, the subject of Demo’s documentary, humbled me. He reminded me of a commitment: despite the odds, the work must go on, the cause must endure.
For those who don’t know, Padraig is in the business of peacemaking: a practice of creating strong relationships between communities in order to prevent conflict. He travels across the globe, to Kosovo, to Northern Ireland, to Iraq, in the hopes that he can unite cities in transition to rise above violence and find common ground in each other’s values. One of his most recent undertakings, the Forum for Cities in Transition, was described as a type of support group, a “Horror Conflict Anonymous,” if you will. This perspective comes from Porraig, who is now over a decade into his sobriety. Having been effectively drunk through some of his greatest peacemaking achievements, Padraig tries to come to terms with the purpose of his life and his work. In the film, he states “the things I think give some meaning to my life [but] as I get older, I believe less in meaning.” Because of his time in Alcoholics Anonymous, Padraig was able to apply the tactics of addiction recovery to that of peacemaking. By focusing on people’s strengths and what unites them instead of their divisiveness, Padraig brings about peace, even if he can’t find it for himself (if he even wants it).
What made the screening I attended special was that we were in the presence of both the director and Padraig himself. The ability to be vulnerable on screen and in front of an audience like that inspired me and many other viewers in the audience. During the question-and-answer portion of the screening, viewers came forward about their own life experiences. One woman asked what Padraig is grateful for, a question she revealed her therapists asks of herself. Another woman bravely came forward about her own experiences with alcoholism. I had never seen a group of people so willing to be vulnerable and open about their feelings of existential doubt in public. After the screening, three strangers who also attended the screening and I conversed for nearly an hour about politics, the meaning of life, the nature of peace and conflict.
I had a brief chance to talk to the director after the screening had ended. I asked about the narrative arch in his film and the archetype of the genius stunted by their own sense of self in comparison to a work of fiction (like the films mentioned above). Mr. Demo stated that the biggest difference between this type of work in a fiction versus nonfiction setting is that, in nonfiction, the writing happens in editing. He may not have initially intended to follow such an arch, but the story evolved into it. The cinematic assembly of The Peacemaker lives up to the adage “life imitates art.”