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“I Knew Right Then the Filmmaking Gods Were Looking Down on Us” | Rich Peppiatt, Kneecap

Three Irish men dressed in blue ascend a staircase. The man in the back is wearing a red, white and blue ski mask.Still from 2024 Sundance premiere Kneecap

Films are made of and from places: the locations they are filmed in, the settings they are meant to evoke, the geographies where they are imagined and worked on. What place tells its own story about your film, whether a particularly challenging location that required production ingenuity or a map reference that inspired you personally, politically or creatively?

Belfast is more than just a setting of my film Kneecap—it is almost a character itself. It is a city that wears its heart both on its sleeve and on its walls. Colorful graffiti, often politically charged, is everywhere. And for a brash & noisy film like ours, that’s the perfect backdrop.

I guess it’s oddly unusual to be making a film in the very place it is set, which also happens to be the home of myself, the producer Trevor Birney and many of the cast and crew. Some days we were shooting a two-minute drive from my house. Streets I’d walked down hundreds of times were suddenly overrun by 50 film crew. One day we were about to turn over and I heard the scream of “Daddy!,” turned around and my kids were waving out a car window on their way back from nursery. So, it was a high-pressure film shoot punctuated by these weird moments of domesticity.

Belfast is still a divided city between Catholic and Protestant communities, so where it was safe to shoot on a film like ours—whose colors are very much nailed to our mast—was often a consideration. While writing the film’s script, I always walked across a bridge to reach the pub next to the home of the band for “creative sessions.” It had the perfect curvature to give a Lawrence of Arabia type shot, and I ended up writing a chase scene very specifically built around it. The only problem was that one of the most fervent Protestant estates was located right underneath the bridge. So, during production it was decided with the locations team that early hours on a Sunday morning was our only safe window—our thesis being that most of the people who might look to disrupt the shoot would be nursing hangovers from the night before. And it worked a treat. I remember standing at the monitor as one of our leads, Liam Óg, appeared over the crest of the bridge, a full marching band in pursuit, and this bird flies perfectly across the back of the shot against a clear blue sky. I knew right then the filmmaking Gods were looking down on us.

See all responses to our annual Sundance question here.

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