The Pipe

The Pipe


Reviewed by: James Benefield

At the beginning of The Pipe we are told that Shell – the antagonists of this little guy vs big business documentary – refused to take part in the film. Was it something the filmmaker said? Didn't the oil giants want to defend themselves? Whatever the deal is, one thing is for sure; as good as what follows is, we're only getting half of the story.

It's a shame, as what follows is an otherwise decent and moving film. In 1996, a large gas field was located off the west coast of Ireland. To direct the gas inland, Shell proposed a nine kilometre long underground pipe running into County Mayo. Problematically, it was to pass underneath farm land and close to a number of villages. Up in arms, the inhabitants of the affected villages mounted a semi-successful campaign to halt the plans. Unfortunately, the amendments to the builders' trajectory were arguably worse and that's when things turn nasty.

The more militant of the villagers take matters in to their own hands. One holds a hunger strike, while another refuses to take any notice of Shell's large ships coming to dock in the bay by the village. He continues his fishing habits, coming perilously close to the ships. And subsequently gets arrested. Problems with the police dog the villagers throughout their campaign – a campaign that takes them from a local, to a European, level.

With no participation from Shell, filmmaker Risteard O'Domhnaill instead keeps things low-key and makes this a story about the people and how the saga of the pipe affected the local community. In keeping with this realism, the people of County Mayo are shown warts and all. So, despite their plights, it's hard not to find some of the rather colourful characters a little unsympathetic. Partly this is due to O'Domhnaill's indulging his participants, rather than challenging them. It's clear he has an agenda.

But in between helicopter shots of the glorious landscape and the slightly irritating finger-wagging, there's a good story here with a sprinkling of jaw-dropping moments. The scenes involving the Gardaí are unquestionably unsettling. But with a little bit of perspective from anyone else – be it social historian, fossil fuel expert or even a journalist – it would have been something a little more incisive and pressing.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2010
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A documentary about a County Mayo campaign against the laying of a new Shell oil pipeline.
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Director: Risteard Ó Domhnaill

Year: 2010

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Ireland

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