His work is of world importance – literally so. At a recent screening of the documentary “The Peacemaker” at Plimoth Plantation, the personal struggles of Padraig O’Malley are presented on a parallel track with his labors to bring conflict resolution to the world’s bloodiest, most intractable trouble spots.
O’Malley, the John Joseph Moakley Professor of International Peace and Reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has worked tirelessly in such lethal locales as Iraq, Nigeria, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland.
As the film explores, the 73-year-old O’Malley draws upon his experiences with addiction, approaching wars and conflict as a form of that disease. Confronting cultural and historical demons both internal and external – in the form of one’s entrenched enemies -- requires the help of fellow “addicts” of other war-ravaged regions, as well as peace brokers. He believes addiction treatment techniques can work at the negotiation table.
For more than five years, the award-winning Cambridge-based filmmaker James Demo accompanied O’Malley to direct and produce “The Peacemaker,” a documentary that, in Demo’s words, “takes viewers into Padraig O’Malley’s world of negotiations and conferences with leaders from war-torn regions.
Interviews with O’Malley and key figures in his life paint an intricate portrait of what motivates him to take on the seemingly impossible and show us how one man can truly make a difference.”
A director, writer, and producer, Demo’s work includes “First Time Long Time,” a short comedy starring John Savage, Amanda Plummer, and Karen Black. Demo founded Central Square Films in Cambridge in 2009. “The Peacemaker” chronicles how O’Malley has made an impact from his native Dublin to the negotiating tables across the globe. Demo notes, “The basic premise of O’Malley’s work is that cultures in conflict are in the best position to help other cultures in conflict.”
O’Malley’s first effort to test the approach occurred during “The Troubles,” when he persuaded Northern Irish leaders from all sides to fly to South Africa for the “Great Indaba Conference.” The host was none other than Nelson Mandela, who helped the Catholic and Protestant enemies to start talks that many observers later viewed as essential to the Good Friday Agreement a year later.
O’Malley landed in war-ravaged Baghdad in 2007 with a plan that countless cynics deemed the equivalent of Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills. He intended to buy airline tickets for bitter enemies among Iraq’s splintered political and religious factions to travel to Helsinki, Finland, where he would help lead proposed discussions to broker a peace agreement. With the support of Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari, O’Malley persuaded Iraqi leaders to make the trip. What emerged from fractious rounds of meetings was the Helsinki Agreement, the first glimmer of an approach to peace.
“The Peacemaker” is often a spellbinding look at a man whose own personal demons have in many ways fueled his successes in moving warring parties to at least begin talking with each other.
For more information, see peacemakermovie.com.