California-based John Todd is proud to say that his career started at the Portadown Times, as teenage correspondent from The Birches.
He’s the former Portadown College pupil who’s producer of controversial new film, A Belfast Story, which opens in cinemas on Friday.
John’s son Nathan, who wrote and directed the film, has already hit the headlines, when publicists sent what some called a “terror” press pack, containing a balaclava and constituents to make up a nail bomb, to critics.
Many found it in poor taste, with some saying they would not review the movie as a consequence. They will be missing a trick. The film itself is a fresh take on what John describes as “the things that happened here that you can’t sweep under the carpet”.
John said the press pack “wasn’t a stunt, simply marketing” and that some people “got airtime for themselves by their response”.
The “post-Troubles thriller” stars Irish actor Colm Meaney deliberately cast against his personal politics as a Protestant Columbo-type police detective, investigating a series of murders of old IRA men.
And now the fictional film is being taken seriously by real-life politicians. John said that people from different parties have already asked to see it, as well as the visiting American diplomat Richard Haass.
“Richard Haass’s plane was hardly on the runway before he asked for a private screening of A Belfast Story. Other politicians have also expressed an interest in what we call a ‘what-if’ scenario. What if there were no power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland?”
The film also explores whether the assassination of former terrorists is, as the Portadown producer put it: “Right, wrong or partly right?”
Shot mainly on location in Belfast and rural Ulster, part of the fiction is that the First Minister is from a republican background, with a criminal past, which is threatening to unravel his political career and place his life in danger.
Give My Head Peace’s Tim McGarry moves from comedy to take on a serious role as a former bomber who meets a violent end indirectly through his own former murders.
Other terrorists and bombers are meted out “justice” by avenging assassins.
John Todd, a former journalist at BBCNI before he emigrated to America, is unwilling to define his own political viewpoint or say how much the film cost.
“Several millions,” he said, with funding from Hollywood, but he said his son Nathan “took on the Protestant nationalist tag” when he was a student at Queen’s.
“Nathan is willing to take on that tag. Just because you’re a Protestant doesn’t mean you are a unionist, but he also asked nationalists how they could justify the bombing and maiming of innocent people.”