Inez: A Challenging Woman

Foyle Film Festival launch 2014 programme including documentary tribute to one of Derry's finest

The people of Derry~Londonderry will be able to pay tribute to one of the city's most remarkable citizens at the 2014 Foyle Film Festival, when Inez: A Challenging Woman is screened at the Nerve Centre on November 23.

A leading figure in the Northern Ireland peace process and a champion for women and the disadvantaged, Inez McCormack was an internationally renowned human rights activist and trailblazing trade unionist. Sadly, she passed away in Derry's Foyle Hospice in January 2013 from cancer aged just 69.

Inez: A Challenging Woman is a 32-minute documentary narrated and produced by journalist Susan McKay, who will be speaking during the Foyle Film Festival screening. It is McCormack’s final interview from her home in Derry and also features contributions from former First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and current Irish President Michael D Higgins, among others.

The thought-provoking film – which won the best short documentary category at the Galway Film Fleadh, and had its Northern Ireland premiere at Queen's Film Theatre on November 1 – will be an undoubted highlight of the 2014 Foyle Film Festival, which this year is themed around 'Secret Lives'.

McCormack’s widower, Vinny, said the documentary is 'a lovely tribute' to his late wife. 'The film charts Inez’s development from a young, confused Protestant to a champion of the rights of the poor and the dispossessed. She fought tirelessly to defend public services, constantly under attack then as they are once again.'

On what McCormack would have made of the recent budget cuts announced by Stormont – following yet another deadlock between the ruling parties – Vinny added: 'She would be horrified and think about how to change it, and then she would lead from the front and push forward those people who were most in need. Inez would want everyone to redouble their efforts.'

McCormack was the first female president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. She successfully campaigned for the inclusion of strong equality and human rights provisions in the Good Friday Agreement, and was a signatory to the MacBride Principles for fair employment.

In 2011, she was named by the American publication Newsweek as one of '150 women who shake the world', and her life and work have been portrayed by Meryl Streep in the documentary play Seven.
Yet McCormack always said her greatest achievement was 'seeing the glint in the eye of a woman who thought she was nobody and now realises she’s somebody'.

Documentary director Trevor Birney, of Fine Point Films, described McCormack as 'very forthright in her thinking and communication – a woman not to be messed or trifled with'.

'Living and working in a place like Belfast, where it is generally all men in grey suits, she would always liven up any debate,' added Birney. 'You knew any time you went to whatever event Inez McCormack had something to say, and something different to say. She came from the edges but her views were very much impacting on mainstream. Her voice was absolutely relevant right across the whole spectrum.'

Meanwhile, Martin O’Brien from Atlantic Philanthropies, which funds Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) set up by McCormack in 2006 to fight injustice, said that McCormack wanted the film to convey her concern about the peace process and the failure of the institutions to deliver improvements in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people across Northern Ireland.

'The reason we had a peace process was so we could make a difference, so that the people could have greater access to justice, fairness, equality and dignity, the kind of things Inez stood for,' O'Brien argues. 'The documentary is a rallying cry to people to say we have to continue with that work and the institutions and our politicians have to begin to deliver the aspirations and hopes that were contained in the Agreement.'

Unison’s Patricia McKeown said that McCormack paved the way for other women in the trade union movement. 'She is the person in our heads. She is our moral compass, so it is up to us all the rise to the challenge. Never before has Inez McCormack been so much needed as she is today. I think, in a very humble way, that we have to get on with doing the job she started. We have got to finish it.'

McCormack's film is not the only story of interest to local audiences at the Foyle Film Festival, with late broadcaster Gerry Anderson's documentary about his home city, A City Dreaming, which will screen at the Guildhall on November 21.

The 2014 Foyle Film Festival runs in venues across Derry~Londonderry from November 19 – 23. View the full festival programme of events.