Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dividing Line

To the casual eye, they look like any two hockey-obsessed teenagers anywhere. There they are, suiting up for practice. And playing road hockey. Tussling a bit. And going to practice. And doing random stuff, hanging out, shooting hoops, going to the corner store.... all that sort of thing.

Except these kids aren't growing up in a random neighbourhood just anywhere, they're in Northern Ireland. That's right, Belfast, the hometown of what was temporarily the favourite team of all fans of Theoren Fleury, past and present. And one of these boys is Protestant, and one is Catholic. Let's just say they're streetproofed in ways we'll never have to be.

They were featured in a 2004 National Film Board documentary called When Hockey Came to Belfast, directed by Linda Conway. And by following the boys through their everyday lives, the documentary illustrates the transformative power of hockey (it's rough, tough, and firmly non-sectarian, not having much of a history in that part of the world).

I found almost every shot of this documentary to have something of interest, whether it's kids doing kid-things, or an image of a savage partisan mural. Conway cannily intercuts light-hearted footage of the kids playing hockey or goofing around with more serious bits, showing the grim reality of growing up in Belfast, never spending too long in either mood. It's a real eye-opener, watching two fifteen year-olds catalogue all the ways you can tell whether somebody is in the right side of town or no, or hearing their parents worry about whether their boys... and their families... will come to harm from this particular friendship.

And the message of the documentary is simple. People can get along. When you've been living in a small small world, maybe all it takes is a crazy sport from somewhere else to show you just how broad your horizons can be.

So if you have an hour free, track down this film and give it a go. Definitely a gooder.

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