The 8th review: the battle to repeal Ireland’s 8th amendment

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From the Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes a superb documentary about a slice of modern Irish history – here’s our review.

A stunning theatrical feature-length debut from Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle, The 8th charts the hard-fought battle to repeal the 8th Amendment in Ireland.

With an admirable dedication to its polemic, it tracks the movement through the lens of activist Ailbhe Smyth, who, among others, led the fight towards a historical vote that meant women had the right to safe and legal abortions in the country.

Tracking a 35-year fight from 1983 to 2018, it zones in on the lead up to the referendum, beautifully and cohesively edited by Jordan Montminy and director Maeve O’Boyle. Despite jumping around in time to anchor specific present-day arguments with devastating cases from history, it felt very focused, cautious to never dip into feeling like an elongated history lesson.

Directors Kane, Kennedy and O’Boyle were not interested in the theoretical, which, ultimately, is what made The 8th such a compelling documentary. Although deeply dedicated to one side of the argument, it gave voice to the opposition and handled sensitive talking points with care and compassion. Various contributors had valid and coherent qualms, but it would be remiss to say that there were not a few outrageous remarks, predominately from older white men spitting vitriol on the streets. However, there’s also attention to the alienation taking place in modern-day feminism, where particular groups of women feel excluded from the conversation, although it could’ve pushed further into this by extending the dialogue to the trans community, who are also hugely affected by this issue.

Nevertheless, The 8th reveals many cracks that we must reconcile, striving to tackle every nuance. The language and the way we discuss such sensitive and personal issues have been politicised, and at times, The 8th is quite emotional with how contentious it is. Some scenes could’ve been pulled from yesterday’s news, with men shouting over women at their rallies and the crushing accounts from people who have experienced the trauma first hand.

As the directors charted the movement leading up to the referendum, they ultimately had no idea what film they were making. Their ending was in the hands of the public. They centred themselves on the physical and mental impact on campaigners, who were putting their bodies on the line for a subject that didn’t only affect them, but the generations that would exist after them. It’s quite beautiful to watch women have their moment in a space that focuses on encouragement and understanding, and you can almost feel the tears and the ripple of infectious joy when it all pays off.

From sorrow to victory, Kane, Kennedy and O’Boyle capture the tangible emotion of their subjects, honouring the momentous moment of justice for the women of Ireland.

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