Film review: Untold Secrets

The 33rd Galway Film Fleadh closes with an unsettling, movfing, and powerful documentary

IT HAS been a tremendously successful 2021 Galway Film Fleadh this year. Anecdotally I spoke to several people who had not attended the festival in the past, but did so this year due to the outdoor screenings - and all said they would be back next year.

The closing film of Fleadh 21 was the documentary Untold Secrets. Last year also concluded with a doc, the wonderful The 8th (available to stream on Volta ). That was a brilliant celebration of the repeal movement and by the end of it I had tears in my eyes.

Untold Secrets also elicited tears but I felt very different by the end of this film. I felt unbelievably angry. The film is a series of interviews with survivors, families of survivors, and people involved in the mother and baby home scandal we are all familiar with.


In 2012 a terrific documentary, The Act of Killing, was released. It was screened in Galway cinemas and was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary. It was about the Indonesian genocide in the 1960s, a deeply disturbing story. What made it so infuriating was the people who committed these acts are still alive and still in power in that part of the world.

I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe that happened in the world with no repercussions for these people’. That same year, Catherine Corless published her article, ‘The Home’ about the treatment of women and babies by state institutions over the previous 90 years. It seems we were also capable of atrocities in Ireland.

As a documentary, Untold Secrets is very well made - haunting imagery, first hand sources, names named. Director Teresa Lavina uses what little footage she had, along with taped interviews from the 1980s, and still images of the nuns and children involved. She never overdoes it and gets the tone perfect for telling this awful story - which is more tricky than you might think.

'Should be shown to everyone'

Untold Secrets is just one chapter in the ongoing conversation about this enormous issue. It is the next step in the quest for justice that started in earnest when Catherine Corless published that story in 2012.

People often avoid this kind of documentary and this kind of news story. I am guilty of doing it myself, but this is too recent, too local, and too horrific to ignore. Untold Secrets should be shown to everyone in Ireland, it should be on RTÉ and promoted as heavily as the All-Ireland final, at the very least it should be on the Civic, Social and Political Education course for secondary schools.

We have a national responsibility to make sure everyone knows what happened. Untold Secrets was a brilliant way to end a great festival.


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