About Ceasefire Massacre
New Jersey, June 18, 1994. Giants Stadium is awash with green as Irish soccer fans arrive to watch Ireland's opening World Cup match against the mighty Italy. The sense of optimism is infectious. The Celtic Tiger is in its infancy. Bill Clinton's decision a few months earlier to grant a visa to Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams has added momentum to an embryonic peace process. Jack Charlton's team walks onto the pitch before 75,000 fervent spectators who've traveled from across the globe for this game.
Amongst the fans is Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds who is sitting with leading Irish-American businessmen who've been working behind-the-scenes to end the 25-year-old conflict in Northern Ireland. The electrifying mood is shared by the supporters watching the match in the Heights Bar, a tiny pub in the tiny Northern Irish village of Loughinisland, 24 miles south of Belfast. At the half, the Irish have taken a surprising 1-0.
Shortly after the second half begins, two masked gunmen belonging to a Protestant terror group burst into the Heights Bar. Thirty rounds are fired and six innocent men watching a soccer match were killed. Ceasefire Massacre reveals how the jubilation felt inside Giants Stadium juxtaposed against the horrors of what happened in the Heights Bar, encapsulated the mood of the time. The British government said it would hunt down the killers and ensure they were brought to justice. However, 20 years later, the relatives of those that died believe the British government has questions to answer about its own role in the massacre. In fact, they now believe the British helped the perpetrators and ensured they were never caught. The question remains: Why?
Sports are games. But they can also carry a lot of baggage. When you root for teams, their wins and losses seem to mirror the ups and downs of your own life. Or, let me not mess around with the indefinite "you": that's the way it works for me.
Soccer -- especially the World Cup -- can also take on political symbolism that can have dramatic -- and sometimes deadly -- consequences. Some examples: Austria v Nazi Germany - the "Anschlusspiel" -- in 1938; West Germany vs. East Germany in 1974; and the Algerian "independence" movement in 1968, when key Algerian players refused to play for occupying France, then practicing "la mission civilisatrice" by torturing its colonial subjects striving to be free.
Then there was the Ireland/Italy match in the finals of the 1994 World Cup. This was not a story I knew. My friend Trevor Birney, whose team had helped to produce my film, "Mea Maxima Culpa," told me the tale a year ago. Because I have an Irish name and baggage -- relatives of mine who didn't die in the potato famine came from Counties Sligo and West Meath -- the story was personal.
In 1994, the Republic of Ireland team -- a perennial loser -- was miraculously on its way to the World Cup finals in the United States. The team's coach -- Englishman Jack Charlton -- had managed to bring on board a number of talented players from all over the United Kingdom who were "distantly Irish," or, as one sportswriter said, "if you've ever drank a pint of Guinness, Jack'll pick you." There was a certain poetry to that because, in 1994, just above the Republic, in Northern Ireland, the pro-British and anti-British paramilitaries were, after 25 years of merciless killing, finally talking about bringing an end to the conflict known as "the troubles."
In fact, the road to the finals led through Northern Ireland. In 1993, on a cold November night at Windsor Park in Belfast, before a hostile crowd, the Republic came back from 1-0 down when Alan McLoughlin -- a little used sub -- booted a goal for the tie that earned the team a trip to America. The following summer, in New Jersey at Giants Stadium, shaking with the roars of delirious Irish Americans, the Republic beat powerhouse Italy 1-0. As peace was about to break out in Northern Ireland, and Irish all over the world had visions of winning the World Cup, the celebration seemed to herald one of those mythical political sports moments -- like the American hockey team beating Russia in "The Miracle on Ice" game at the 1980 Olympics or the Springboks winning for Nelson Mandela at the 1995 rugby World Cup -- that would live forever.
Not so fast.
In Loughinisland, a tiny village in Northern Ireland, every local farmer, fisherman and truck driver was watching the match on an old tube TV in the Heights Bar, the only pub within miles of pastures. Just after halftime, two gunmen entered the bar. No one saw them because every one was watching the game. Shrouded in balaclavas, the men knelt down in the doorway and opened fire with assault rifles, killing six and wounding five. As they ran out of the pub and hopped into their getaway car, they were heard to laugh.
Out of such merciless brutality came hope. In Northern Ireland, all parties were so disgusted by the senseless, cowardly violence that the Loughinisland massacre helped to propel a peace process that managed a ceasefire a few months later.
But for the families of the victims, there was no peace. Even today, 20 years later, no one has been held to account for the crime. And no one knows why the Heights Bar was targeted.
There are mysteries within mysteries hidden in the mist of Loughinisland.
Despite the discovery of eyewitnesses, the recovery of the getaway car, the guns, balaclavas, fingerprints and DNA, why was no one charged, never mind convicted? Why was key evidence destroyed by local police? It turns out that the assault rifles were from Czechoslovakia, transshipped to South Africa and brought into Northern Ireland with the aid of British Intelligence. Were they pulling the strings for the attack and the coverup?
And what of the fact that the killers waited until the middle of the game to attack? Were they aiming at the game itself, with all its significance? Were they hoping to kill the hope that it represented with the bullets from their guns? In World Cup soccer, a game is not always just a game.
Known for his cinematic, gripping, and deeply insightful documentaries, Alex Gibney has won the Academy Award, the Emmy, the Grammy, the Peabody, the DuPont-Columbia, The Independent Spirit, and The Writers Guild of America Award, to name just a few. His 2008 film about the Bush Administration's policy on torture, interrogation and rendition, "Taxi to the Dark Side," received an Oscar for Best Feature-Length Documentary, and Gibney received another Academy Award nomination in 2006 for "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." He also served as executive producer on the Oscar-nominated "No End in Sight" (2007).
In 2011, Gibney directed the Sports Emmy-nominated "Catching Hell" for ESPN's "30 for 30" series. In 2013, Gibney and his company, Jigsaw Productions, took home three Emmy Awards for "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," a harrowing story of sex abuse in the Catholic church, and won an Emmy for Showtime's "The History of The Eagles." And "Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream," was part of the Peabody-winning series produced by the BBC and PBS.
"Finding Fela," his most recent documentary about the legendary Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti, premiered at Sundance in 2014.
Gibney's high-profile investigative work has sparked national debates about torture, ethics, the financial crisis and privacy in the Internet age.
Highlights from Gibney's extraordinary career include "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" (2013), a searing portrait of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and the government's struggle for secrecy; "The Last Gladiators" (2011), a look at the NHL's most feared enforcers; "Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place" (2011), a time travel immersion experience about the famous 1964 bus trip taken by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters; and "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" (2008).
Buy the "30 for 30 Fifth Anniversary" box set. Available exclusively at Groupon ».