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Hard-hitting series wins Best Documentary Award

The series title is overlaid on a photo of a young boy pointing a toy gun in front of two soldiers standing on the corner of a graffiti covered building, with a crowd of shoppers in the street behind them

Hard-hitting documentary series Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland, an OU/BBC co-production made with Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences academic consultant Dr Philip O'Sullivan, has won a prestigious Best Documentary Award at the Broadcast Awards

The powerful five-part documentary explores the human experiences of The Troubles, giving voice to the people who share intimate stories from all sides of the conflict. It combines unfiltered personal accounts with archive footage to tell the story of the people and communities who had to live with violence daily - and are still dealing with its legacies today.

Director James Bluemel’s previous work includes the multi award-winning series Once Upon a Time in Iraq and Exodus – Our Journey to Europe (made with academic consultants Sociologists Dr Umut Erel and Professor Marie Gillespie).

Philip is Senior Lecturer in Environment and Politics, and for 10 years was co-lead on Time to Think: Open University Journeys in British and Irish prisons during the years of conflict 1972-2000.  As academic consultant for the series, he says “I have now lived in Belfast for over 30 years, so the history and politics of Northern Ireland and Ireland and are very close to me.

“A lot of the series made for very uncomfortable viewing, but sometimes uncomfortable is a necessary thing. The programme is original in that it's not the usual retelling of events from the view of professional historians and political commentators, or past and present local politicians; rather it is the extremely powerful personal testimony and witness of ordinary people who lived through and witnessed extraordinary times.

“I don’t have the vocabulary to do those individual stories justice.  There are many moving stories; some are inevitably very sad and still raw.”

The Broadcast Award judges said the series was “Personal, powerful and raw. This series presented an outstanding unravelling of a known story from a new perspective, which meant audiences were bound to learn something new. The interviews and archive balanced the ordinary everyday with wide-reaching political events and were expertly woven throughout the series."

Extensive resources and information, including an exclusive interview about the making of the series with Director James Bluemel and Producer/Director Sian McIlwaine, can be found on the Broadcast & Partnerships site OU Connect.

Image credit: Once upon a time in Northern Ireland titlecard (c) Homer Sykes

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