By David Hennessy
There is another chance to see the Sinead O’Connor documentary Nothing Compares with a special screening at The London Irish Centre to be followed by a Q and A with director Kathryn Ferguson this Thursday 8 June.
The Irish World was the Rio Cinema in Kingsland Dalston recently when Outlander and Belfast actress Caitríona Balfe was there to ask the questions for another discussion.
Hosted by Irish Film London, the screening was followed by a Q and A with writer/ director Kathryn Ferguson and writer/ producer Eleanor Emptage.
Sinead O’Connor’s star exploded in the late 1980s/ early 90s.
Her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got went to number one all around the world.
Nothing Compares 2 U, her cover of a Prince song, would become iconic.
But controversy would overshadow her talent.
She refused to perform at an American music festival if they played the American national anthem before she took to the stage and was perceived as being anti- American.
The backlash included Frank Sinatra saying he would ‘kick her in the ass’.
When she tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live to make a statement about sexual abuse in the church, she would be vilified.
Kathryn Ferguson’s film seeks to tell Sinead’s story and address how she has been ‘dismissed’ and ‘reduced’.
The film won two awards at last year’s British Independent Film Awards winning Best Feature Documentary and Best Debut Documentary Director for its UK- based Derry director. It has won many other awards including Best Irish Documentary at Galway Film Fleadh.
Kathryn told The Irish World: “I’m just grateful that the film has managed to go out in the world and that it’s been received the way that we really hoped and dreamed that it would be.
“Obviously making any film you don’t know how it’s all going to go, you can just hope that people will understand what you’re trying to articulate.
“We set out from the very beginning to tell this story out of a deep respect and love for herself and wanting to put the story straight.
“I’ve said the whole way that any positive response to Nothing Compares is a positive response to Sinead O’Connor.
“I’ve always been hugely inspired by Sinead herself. I grew up in Northern Ireland during the 80s and 90s and she became a huge icon for my friends and I when we were young teenagers growing up in the country.
“We were then very demoralised to witness how she was treated.
“We felt as soon as we found her and claimed her as our musical god and one from her own island, it was very demoralising to then see how the media treated her and how her voice was hugely reduced.
“So I would say that’s where the seeds for the film were really sown.
“I think now that we’re 13, 14 months into this, it’s just been galvinising to me just having so many people who feel the same as I do about her and having that validated, I just feel like I’ve just met so many other women particularly who have come up and said how much it’s tapped into their early teenage selves and they remember who she made them feel and it just has felt wonderful to be honest.”
When the film screened at Galway Film Fleadh, Kathryn was unsure how it would go but when it came to Sinead ripping up the picture of the pope, there was a powerful reaction when the entire theatre stood up and cheered.
There was the same sentiment with a round of applause at the recent showing.
“I just think what it proves is that everybody has been waiting to hear this side of her story and see it in this kind of cinematic way and to have it all pieced together.
“I think people have been rooting for her for years and I think it’s just really important to be able to be able to sit down and listen to her.
“A key part of our film and why we did VO only was to be able to hear what she had to say because here is a woman whose voice has been so greatly reduced and dismissed by the media.
“So for me as a film maker it was of utmost importance that her voice was the key character in the film and one that you couldn’t get away from. You had to sit and listen to it and you had to hear things you maybe didn’t want to hear but I was certainly going to make sure that you sat through it and were confronted by it.
“I think that’s certainly been what I wanted the film to do and thankfully it’s had that effect.
“It’s created a lot of conversation and reflection.”
The documentary sees Sinead go through abuse she suffered as a child, including being locked out of the house in the cold for weeks.
She also says that when she fell pregnant in her early 20s, her record label told her to get rid of the baby because they had ‘invested in’ her.
During the backlash to Sinead’s statement about the Pope, Joe Pesci told the audience on his show Sinead would have got ‘such a smack’ if she did it on his show.
Another American media personality says that, ‘In Sinead O’Connor’s case, child abuse was justified’.
“It wasn’t that long ago,” Kathryn says.
“I mean this was the 90s.
“I just think that’s also very shocking when people see that backlash pieced together.
“I just think it’s very depressing to see that that’s how young women were treated, female artists and I’m often asked, ‘Is it massively better now? And has everything changed?’
“And I don’t know if it has.
“I think if you were to piece together many a young female artist’s career and what they’ve been subjected to, I imagine there would be an awful lot of things that you wouldn’t want to see.
“I don’t think it’s much better now.
“I think the only thing that’s better is we have social media so people have got autonomy over their own story.”
Kathryn says Sinead was cancelled before it was a term for speaking out against war and against abuse in the church.
She was also speaking about abortion rights long before Ireland legalised abortion in 2018.
“(She was) trying to help people. Speaking out about things that people didn’t want to hear, but saying the things that people were too scared to say.
“She said it. She was like the canary in the coal mine and she was punished for it which sounds very depressing as a woman.
“(It was) horrendous, it was disgraceful.
“I’m delighted that people all feel the same and what seems to be the key response to the film is that people come out furious and saddened but also galvinised.
“I think that’s an amazing response that we could only have hoped for.
“I didn’t want to make another film about an incredible, iconic female artist because there’s many that have been made that leave you feeling gut punched and depressed, I wanted you to feel furious but galvinised and that seems to have been the effect of the film.
“That’s how she made me feel as a young girl and I just love that that’s how the film is making new generations of women feel themselves.
“I think people are shocked and they are very reflective and I think they’re having to think about how much they have been manipulated by the media and how they have got this completely wrong.
“I suppose what that does is make you question lots of your opinions about lots of people and you can see how easily manipulated we are by the media and I think that’s caused a lot of people to be very reflective.
“We spent hours and hours going through footage and interviews and I suppose what became very apparent pretty fast was her consistency.
“I think as an artist who’s had her voice constantly ridiculed and dismissed in fact you could actually see how utterly consistent she’s always been.
“That to me wasn’t a surprise but was fantastic just see that what she stood up for and what she stood up against has always been the same, it’s abuse of power essentially is what she stands up against and speaks out against.
“She’s never wavered from that ever.”
Has Sinead been vindicated on every count? “I hope so and I really would love to see her out performing again when she is ready.
“I think there will be an awful lot of love out there for her.
“Certainly I’ve been very fortunate to get to meet all the people who adore her.
“I hope she also does.”
London Irish Centre host a special screening of Nothing Compares at 7pm this Thursday 8 June.
Nothing Compares comes to Sky soon.