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Padraig O'Malley in a scene from The Peacemaker
April 22, 2016

Documentary Featuring UMass Boston’s Padraig O’Malley Has New England Premiere April 28

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  • Boston
Regional Debut of ‘The Peacemaker’ Part of Independent Film Festival Boston

For the last 50 years, UMass Boston’s Padraig O’Malley has played a major role in breaking gridlock and promoting peace in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East. The Peacemaker, a new documentary about O’Malley’s work, will have its New England premiere on Thursday, April 28 at 7 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. (Watch the trailer.)

The screening is part of the 14th annual Independent Film Festival Boston, which will also have screenings at the Campus Center.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, O’Malley is an award-winning author and expert on democratic transitions and divided societies, with special expertise on Northern Ireland, South Africa, Iraq, and the Middle East. He is the John Joseph Moakley Distinguished Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.

He’s also the co-owner of The Plough and Stars restaurant in Cambridge, which is where filmmaker James Demo found out about O’Malley. Demo and O’Malley met in 2008, and the documentarian followed O'Malley for five years – to Iraq, Nigeria, and Kosovo.

O’Malley never planned to see the film, but changed his mind just before the world premiere earlier this month at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina. In the front row, he watched the film along with the audience, who gave him a standing ovation.

Padraig O'Malley in the front row at the North Carolina premiere of The Peacemaker

O’Malley is the founder and director of one of the Moakley Chair’s initiatives, the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT). Representatives from four “divided societies”—Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland; Mitrovica, Kosovo; Kirkuk, Iraq; and Nicosia, Cyprus—came to UMass Boston in 2009 to discuss their challenges and try to help one another.

“I said, if you don’t identify with each other, feel free to go home, but if you do bond, if the person from Iraq is saying something to you in Northern Ireland, then we’re in business,” O’Malley said.

No one went home, and now more than a dozen member cities meet each year, pledging to carry out a reconciliation project in their own city or another city. FCT is built on the idea that divided societies are in the best position to help one another come together, and modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-step recovery program.

“An addict is in the best position to help other addicts,” O’Malley explained.

O’Malley’s own struggles with addiction frame the documentary.

“Padraig’s recovery permeates every aspect of his life – it wouldn’t be a full telling of Padraig’s story if his work wasn’t framed,” Demo said. “There’s something to be said about taking one’s negative aspect of their life and turning it into something incredibly positive. He’s very upfront about suffering from alcoholism in his life. He saw similarities between people being addicted to conflict and substances.”

In addition to October’s FCT conference in Tripoli, Lebanon, O’Malley is setting up the first Global Forum for Marginalized Youth, which will take place in December in Kosovo. Meanwhile, The Peacemaker will continue to be shown at festivals both in the United States and abroad. The day after the Cambridge screening, the film will be shown in Toronto, Canada at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival.

“I hope that the film finds a full life in the world,” Demo said. “I think it’s an important story. It deals with deep themes of reconciliation, with addiction, with existential themes of what it means to devote a life to something, and I hope people see the film, enjoy its message, and it has a long life out of the world.”

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