"So an Irishman and an Englishman walk into a cell…" What could be the scene-setter for a particularly saucy ethnic joke is actually the premise of this claustrophobic character study from first-time writer/director John Furse. Set in Lebanon in the 1980s, when taking Westerners hostage became a sort of national pastime for a few years, Blind Flight relates the true story of Irish teacher Brian Keenan and British journalist John McCarthy, who were incarcerated together for four-and-a-half harrowing years. To call the pair mismatched would be an understatement. The surly nationalist Keenan and the genial toff McCarthy make the Defiant Ones look like Chang and Eng Bunker by comparison. But therein lies the drama. Working from a script that is as bare-bones as its stripped-down protagonists, Furse focuses like the proverbial laser beam, not on the politics of the Middle East, but on the personal conflict between these two captives. Keenan is at first hostile and then merely wary towards his cellmate, but over time (and with an assist from their increasingly brutal captors) the men form a bond. Soon they are playing chess, singing, killing mosquitoes, and defying their jailers together. Blind Flight has the grimy, closed-in look and feel of another "men imprisoned" film, Midnight Express, but it ultimately expresses a more optimistic worldview. Trapped in the most intolerable circumstances, separated by religion, culture, and politics, these two historical foes find a way to endure their pain together, proving true McCarthy's contention that, even under the worst conditions, "we can still choose joy."
Director's Statement Collapse
I started work on Blind Flight in January 1991, soon after Brian Keenan's release from captivity in Lebanon, where he had been held hostage by Muslim fundamentalists for 4 1/2 years, most of the time in the company of John McCarthy. Brian, and later John after his own release, entrusted me with the story of their ordeal. Like millions of others I was inspired by the tale of how two men from completely different and potentially antagonistic backgrounds--the bullish working-class Keenan from the strife-torn streets of Belfast in Northern Ireland and the charming ex-public schoolboy McCarthy from the sedate Home Counties in England--dealt with their predicament. Blind Flight tells of how, in the face of the most acute deprivation and under constant threat of death, they forged a friendship that transcended all that appeared to divide them. Through sharing their deepest memories, feelings, fears, and loves with unusual frankness and intimacy--and through the use of humour--they discovered a capacity for inner freedom, a joy for life, and a compassionate humanity which embraced even their captors.
I think that its themes remain as pertinent to the times we live in as they did when the film was first conceived during the original Gulf War. I and my colleagues are hugely pleased and honoured that Blind Flight has been invited to the Tribeca Film Festival, which we feel could hardly be bettered as a venue for its first screenings in the USA.