Terry Cafolla

Profile of the award winning writer of Holy Cross

Belfast based screenwriter Terry Cafolla was born in Armagh in 1969. His first television drama Holy Cross (2003) examined the emotive events which occurred on Belfast’s Ardoyne Road in 2001 and signalled the emergence of a television writer of skill and sensitivity. However, the route to becoming a fulltime television writer was, for Cafolla, somewhat circuitous.

Leaving Armagh to study at Queen’s University he completed a degree in Philosophy and Russian studies and subsequently obtained an MA in Poetry. After leaving college, following a short spell on a media-training course, Cafolla secured a one year contract with a Belfast film collective.

Working on numerous film shorts afforded him the opportunity to develop an appreciation of the technical art of filmmaking and to explore aspects of contemporary life in Northern Ireland. One such feature was the short Burning Issues, which Cafolla developed alongside a group of young people from Tullycarnet.

When his contract with the film collective expired, Cafolla took his newfound expertise to the Belfast Institute where he was employed for a number of years in the video production unit and worked on the planning of educational videos.

Practical experience of filming and editing procedures was to give him a greater understanding of the principles of storytelling structure and execution.

Even as a child, television was a source of fascination to Cafolla. As he grew older this blossomed into what he himself would describe as a ‘trainspotter’ like obsession, and Cafolla is particularly passionate about the finely honed work of American screenwriters on shows such as Six Feet Under, 24, The West Wing and The Sopranos.

Indeed, he talks about the screening of NYPD Blue as being a pivotal moment in helping shape his perception and understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities which the medium of television presents to the dramatist.

It was by writing a ‘spec’ script for NYPD Blue that Cafolla won himself a much coveted place on the prestigious Carlton Screenwriters Course.

The course gave him the opportunity to write a pilot of a programme called Force (2002). He was also commissioned in 2002 to write a pilot episode for Carlton TV series Making Waves.

However, it was Cafolla’s work on the BBC NI drama documentary Holy Cross (2003) that was to establish his reputation. Television dramas focusing on life in Northern Ireland have an unfortunate tendency to veer towards the predictable with stories of the Troubles and depictions of sectarian division all too often reverting to cliché.

Cafolla with his deft writing managed to combine the documentary maker’s need for analytical objectivity with the dramatist’s desire for emotional impact and avoided presenting tired stereotypes.

The decision to employ a new writer to tackle such a contentious issue was amply rewarded. Holy Crosswas to win a number of international film and television awards including that of Feature Drama at the Celtic Film and Television Awards.

Cafolla’s work on the programme was particularly acclaimed and he received a BAFTA nomination and an award for Best Drama Screenplay at the FIPA Biarritz Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels.

Following the success of Holy Cross, Cafolla has been working on a number of projects for BBC NI and network television, including the series Messiah.

By Francis Jones