Titanic Belfast – City of a Thousand Launches TG4 10th April 9.30pm
Featuring extensive archive footage, survivor accounts and interviews with world renowned Titanic experts, City of a Thousand Launches is the untold story of how one of the worst disasters at sea was followed by almost a century of silence in Belfast.
While there are countless documentaries about Titanic herself, this film looks at the ‘Ship of Dreams’ from a fresh perspective, that of the City whose people designed and built her. How did they process the loss of the ship? Harland & Wolff of Belfast were at the time building the biggest & most famous ships in the world, but were they and their craftsmen to blame for the tragedy? “They thought that it was their fault” says Dr. Bob Ballard, the world’s most famous Titanic expert, ‘”We do not talk about Titanic”…That was the culture of Belfast’, laments Reverend Chris Bennett, a local ‘Titanorack’, as the phrase goes, summing up at the outset the shame felt in connection with the ship.
It was during a secret mission for the U.S. Navy to recover two lost nuclear submarines in 1985 that Ballard would achieve his long-held ambition to discover the wreck of Titanic. The ship quickly moved from myth to reality in the consciousness of a new generation and when that reality was fused with the romanticism of James Cameron’s epic movie in 1997 Titanic once again became the most famous ship in the world.
We see politics conspiring with history at this point with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 offering this politically and religiously divided city its first chance of peace in 30 years. The former shipyards of Harland & Wolff, which at their peak had daily welcomed a workforce of over 30,000, were now sold for redevelopment to some unlikely candidates… “There was a concern about a Dublin based developer coming up to Belfast to…rape & pillage” reveals Mike Smith who was involved in the deal. Visionary plans for a new waterfront area, “Titanic Quarter”, designed by charismatic American architect Eric Kuhne soon captured the imagination of the city. Titanic Quarter could define the new Belfast, but not without an iconic building to arrest the World’s attention…
What could be a better place to tell the iconic story of Titanic than in an equally iconic building built right on the spot where the ship herself had been. The concept for a world class visitor centre, was born.
The journey from concept to reality would not be an easy one. The politicians had bought into the potential of this vision, as Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness & Arlene Foster all explain. However, the bureaucracy which came hand in hand with the Government funding needed meant that, although the stage was set, there was a real risk that the curtain would not be ready to lift on time for the Centenary Commemorations in 2012. If so, Belfast would miss a golden opportunity to showcase its new self to the World. Bureaucracy would lose-out to the bold ambition of Pat Doherty, the quiet and unassuming Donegal developer at the heart of the project, when he would risk £10 million of his own companies money by starting to build with no official contracts in place, “…That was it, this sucker was getting built…and it was getting built with a vengeance!” recalls Kuhne enthusiastically.
The twists & turns of this tale, 100 years in the making, are intimately told by those at the heart of it. From historians to visionaries, oceanographers to architects, close to 30 different voices join together at pace & bring the viewer with them as they recount how all of this led to one final launch on the slipways of Harland & Wolff… Titanic Belfast.
The visionaries were proved right and the centre was an instant success, welcoming over 5 million visitors from 145 countries in its first 5 years, bolstering the economy, and helping the people of Belfast to finally turn the page on a new chapter of Belfast’s Titanic story.