Black Star Riders, Kingdom of the Lost (2013)

Black Star Riders, Kingdom of the Lost (2013)

I had no experience at all of making music videos until my friend Ricky Warwick asked me to film one for Black Star Riders. BSR is what Thin Lizzy call themselves when they’re doing original material rather than classic Lizzy songs, and Ricky fronts both bands. I suggested a road trip in California. And I couldn’t imagine anyone else but Sai Kelly to shoot it and co-direct with me. Sai got more images and edits in this four minutes and 43 seconds than most 60-minute documentaries!

Border Lives (2013) – Episodes 1-6

Border Lives (2013) Episodes 1-6

Looking back I still regard this as a remarkable project. It was a journey along the border, where I interviewed people about their personal stories of the conflict. The Belfast Telegraph said: “While the politicians keep talking about dealing with the legacy of the past, with this series Michael Beattie has already started the process.”  Sadly, I’ve yet to see much sign of the politicians continuing that process. I was delighted when Gareth Dunlop agreed to provide the soundtrack.

Born Again (2006)

Born Again (Michael Beattie Media 2006)

I’ve always disliked the prejudice many people bring to the term ‘born again’. And I thought I might bring some enlightenment to it by having three different ‘born again’ families – Baptist, Brethren and Elim – explain what it means to them. And who better to talk to them than my friend Glenn Patterson, a writer who went through a childhood ‘born again’ experience himself and who is sensitive and respectful, insightful and reflective. The film was selected for the Greenbelt Festival.

Breakout (2003)

Breakout (Hotshot Films 2003)

In 1983, 38 IRA prisoners escaped from the Maze Prison near Belfast. It was the biggest escape in British penal history.  I’d made an award-winning programme about it on the 10th anniversary, the only one I’m aware of to confront the government’s so-called ‘Broadcast Ban’ of the time, forbidding broadcasters from using direct speech of certain listed organisations.  As the 25th anniversary approached, I felt it was definitely time to have another look.

Christine’s Children (2003)

Christine’s Children (Doubleband Films 1986)

Christine’s Children is possibly my most important film. Because it went beyond information, education or entertainment. It made a difference. I always want to offer the audience something that makes them stop and think, maybe even change their minds. That could be new information, perhaps a new perspective on something they already know about, or something that challenges them. This film did all of that. And it changed lives. It also won a Royal Television Society award.

The Crossing (2017)

The Crossing (Erica Starling Productions 2017)

In 2015 Belfast musician Joby Fox is so horrified by news stories of refugees drowning off the shores of Lesbos, Greece, that he feels compelled to go straight there to help. Standing on the beach with other volunteers waiting for refugee boats to arrive, he realises the real need is out at sea. He returns to Belfast with an idea. Buy a rescue boat, find a crew and raise the money to make it all work. It’s a mammoth task. Is it remotely possible he might succeed?

A Deadly Mission – Belfast to Congo (2015)

A Deadly Mission – Belfast to Congo
(Erica Starling Productions 2015)

This is the story of 89 year old Belfast missionary Bob McAllister, a Shankill Road man, as he makes a final journey to the Congo 50 years after he and his young family escaped a bloody massacre when 19 of their friends and colleagues died. Held under house arrest for four months, they were rescued by the CIA. Veteran ITN journalist Sandy Gall recalls reporting from Kinshasa in the midst of the post-independence rebellion.

The Flying Shoebox (2003)

The Flying Shoebox (Waddell Media 2003)

I was eleven years old when a quirky little aircraft made its maiden flight over Belfast. From my bedroom window looking down on what is today Belfast City Airport, I watched the Shorts Skyvan take to the air. It was to become an aviation legend. This film gave me the fun of returning to my childhood along with a soundtrack of period hits researched by my friend and musical advisor Michael Stevenson, as I talked to those who designed, built and piloted The Fying Shoebox.

Hear My Prayer (2006)

Hear My Prayer (Hotshot Films 2006)

The biggest annual Christian gathering in Ireland in the Novena at Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road in Belfast. Nine days of prayer, nine days of packed congregations and proceedings relayed via loudspeaker to crowds outside. It’s an event that even attracts a significant number of Protestants. The Redemptorist community welcomed us in to film proceedings – as far as I’m aware the only time this has happened.  And many of the participants were happy to tell us why they go.

A House Divided (2003)

A House Divided (Holywood Films/Michael Beattie Media 2003)

Journalist Eamonn Mallie, who I first worked with in Downtown Radio in 1976, and latterly a serious art collector himself, hatched a plan. To have a portrait painted of all 108 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Paisley, Hume, Adams, McGuinness, Trimble, Mallon etc. It hadn’t been done since William Conor’s 1921 painting of the state opening of Northern Ireland’s first parliament. Against the odds the politicians agreed. And this film shows how artist Noel Murphy managed the task.

In the Footsteps of Blair Mayne (2009)

In The Footsteps Of Blair Mayne
(Hotshot Films 2009)

I’d tried several times, without success, to get a broadcaster interested in a film about WW2 hero Blair Mayne. Then I discovered that Formula One star Eddie Irvine – who was born in the same town and attended the same school as Mayne – was a fan. I asked Eddie if he might be interested in telling the story, the BBC liked the idea, and before long we were in North Africa, filming where many of Mayne’s most famous exploits took place.

Ireland’s Violent Frontier (2013)

Ireland’s Violent Frontier (2013)

This is my complete interview with Professor Henry Patterson as I was researching Border Lives. I found it fascinating. It was based on his book, Ireland’s Violent Frontier – The Border and Anglo Irish Relations Through The Troubles. It was the first book to examine the role of the border in sustaining the IRA’s 25 year ‘Long War’. Henry contends that the Provisionals ability to exploit the border was central to their entire campaign.

Jackie’s The Boy (2010) – Episodes 1-3

Jackie’s The Boy (Michael Beattie Media 2010) Episodes 1-3

This series can be traced back to the Crosskeys pub outside Toome many years earlier. I was talking to a local in the bar. He asked me in his Antrim accent about people in UTV where I worked. “D’ye know Jaykie Fullerton?” he enquired. “I do” I said. “Agh” says he. “Jaykie’s the boy!” Then and there I decided someday I’d make a series with that title. It took many years, but I’m glad I managed to make it happen.

The Kelly Show, Belfast Blues (1992)

The Kelly Show, Belfast Blues (UTV 1992)

I fell in love with the blues at an early age, particularly harmonica blues. I’ve had the good fortune to play with some great Northern Irish performers and even record with a few of them. I think it was back in 1992 that I made my only television appearance playing harp (as the bluesmen call it) with the Belfast Super Blues Band, alongside two particular legends, boogie woogie maestro Jim Daly and former Them guitarist, Jim Armstrong.

Live Longer Feel Better (2020)

Live Longer Feel Better (TK Media 2020)

This started in 2017 as a seven-part series, but since then we’ve travelled the world constantly updating and adding to it. Re-launched in January 2020, it now has 10 episodes, most of them more than an hour long. And basically it has every bit of information we’ve gathered over the past six years, on how to give yourself the best shot at a long life and healthy old age. How to prevent diabetes, dementia and depression, avoid cancer, deal with stress, combat toxins, and much more.

Opus Dei Unveiled (2006)

Opus Dei Unveiled (Michael Beattie Media 2006)

The 2003 best-selling book The Da Vinci Code, and the follow-up blockbuster movie, introduced many people to the ‘secret’ Roman Catholic sect, Opus Dei. I’d known an Opus Dei member for several years and was keen to make a film about the real organisation. My journey took me across Ireland and to Rome to meet members and to sort the fact from the fiction. Do they whip themselves? Do they wear a painful spiked thigh-band? I found the answers. And much more.

The Other Emerald Isle (1986)

The Other Emerald Isle (DBA Television 1986)

I’m indebted to the late Belfast playwright Stewart Parker for the wonderful adventure of making this film. I saw his play Kingdom Come in 1982 at Belfast’s Lyric theatre, and so learned of the ‘black Irish’ of the Caribbean and Ireland’s involvement in the slave trade. David Barker encouraged me to take my idea for a film to the recently-launched UK Channel 4. Little did I think that the presenter I chose would today be President of Ireland – Michael D. Higgins!

The Pox Doc (2011)

The Pox Doc (Michael Beattie Media 2011)

Early in his medical career, I’d interviewed Belfast doctor, Raymond Maw. He impressed me, but we didn’t meet again. Over the years I noticed his career developing in Genito Urinary Medicine and Belfast’s GUM clinic. When I heard he was preparing to retire, I thought it would be a good time to have him reflect on 30 years experience of sexual infection, HIV etc. (I did want to call it The Dick Doc, a widely used colloquial term, but that was a step too far for the BBC!)

Quitting the Rat Race (2003)

Quitting The Rat Race (Waddell Media 2003)

From 2000 onwards I seemed to be hearing of more and more people packing in their ‘9-to-5’ lives for something more meaningful. Searching for less stress, more enjoyment from life. It’s a daydream many of us share. For me it goes back to childhood fascination with Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, and the travel books in my father’s library. Before long I found three very different people who’d decided to quit the rat race for a simpler life.

Robert Campbell, Mountain Man (2018)

Robert Campbell, Mountain Man
(Third Street Studios 2018)

I love backwoods, off the beaten track America. I love the West and its stories of pioneers and gunslingers, Indians and Mountain Men. Imagine my delight when I discovered that no one had told the true tale of an Ulsterman who was one of the original band known as Mountain Men, and not only that, a descendant was living in Helen’s Bay a few miles from my home. I started planning a trip West in search of Robert Campbell.

Ruby and the Duke (2011)

Ruby and the Duke (Hardy Pictures 2011)

It wasn’t until this film was screened on RTE that I realised just how popular Ruby Murray still is. Such was the audience, and media reaction, it left me in no doubt that the girl from the Donegall Road, who was Britain’s first pop star, hadn’t been forgotten. She had overnight success with her first hit when she was just 19. And the record she set in 1955 when she had five songs in the top twenty, has never been beaten. Contemporary music star Duke Special jumped at the chance to examine her life.

Sorry For Your Trouble (2007)

Sorry For Your Trouble
(Michael Beattie Media 2007)

Death is the one certainty in life, and it was the fear of one colleague, who couldn’t bear to talk about anything to do with it, that prompted me to look at death and dying in Northern Ireland. This is the first time cameras see what happens inside Roselawn crematorium, the first time a Northern Ireland crew visits the ‘Body Farm’ in Tennessee where decomposing corpses are studied, and the first time William Crawley presents a documentary.

Stress And Disorder (2003)

Stress And Disorder (Michael Beattie Media 2003)

Back in 2003, PTSD wasn’t recognised as it is today. But a significant number of RUC personnel suffered from it in the years of the Northern Ireland conflict. And they were ready to take a case for compensation to the High Court in London. For the first time PTSD was being taken seriously. I wanted to meet those who’d been traumatised. And to visit Israel, since the Israeli Defence Force was reputedly the best in the world at recognising and dealing with it.

Tailwind (2009)

Tailwind (Holywood Films/Michael Beattie Media 2008)

In 1939 at the outbreak of World War 2, Northern Ireland had three airfields. Within two years there were 26, as the country became strategically crucial to the air war. Thousands of pilots, aircrew and technicians came from every Allied nation to train, to prepare aircraft, and to fight the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’. The face of the country was changed forever. This is the personal story of people who lived through those years in Northern Ireland and a history I don’t want to see forgotten.

A Tale of Two Cities (2006)

A Tale of Two Cities (Hotshot Films 2016)

Sir Kenneth Branagh narrates these two films charting a series of dramatic events in Belfast in 1906 and 1907, exposing a forgotten chapter in the city’s history. At first Sir Ken’s assistant told me he was too busy with his multi-million pound movie Mozart’s Magic Flute to consider it. I eventually got her to agree to show him the script. The story goes that it was actually his father, who was visiting him at the time, who got the script first. He loved it so much he told his son he HAD to do it!

That Vitamin Movie (2016) – Trailer

That Vitamin Movie – Trailer

It started on a wing and a prayer and we didn’t really know how we might fund it or how big it could grow. My friend Sai Kelly came on board from the start as camera/editor and my co-director. He did it on trust, not knowing when and how any of us might get paid. That’s the sort of guy he is. I loved this trailer he cut…I think it hits all the important spots and if anything would get an audience on board. It worked. Thankfully. The music is from the Northern Ireland band Villiers and the Villains.

That Vitamin Movie (2016) – Opening Sequence

That Vitamin Movie – Opening Sequence

I just love the opening to this documentary, and it’s all down to my friend and co-director Sai Kelly. It was his vision to have me paddling my canoe at dawn in a flat calm, the pink sky reflected on the water, mist hanging in the air. I told him we could never afford the special effects! We’d almost finished editing the entire film without the first couple of minutes when the weather suddenly produced what we needed, and at 4.30 a.m. one autumn morning we filmed this. I couldn’t believe it! Thanks, Sai!

That Vitamin Movie (2016)

That Vitamin Movie (TK Media 2016)

In the summer of 2014, my old friend Trevor King told me that he’d finally got rid of a lifetime of depression – and it had taken him just three weeks! He’d sought out a vitamin expert in upstate New York who told him what combination of supplements to take. “We have to let more people know about this. It’s like a miracle”, Trevor said. So off I set with Trevor and director/cameraman Sai Kelly to meet Andrew Saul, the ‘Megavitamin Man’.