<I>Belfast</I>: Editor Una Ni Dhonghaile
January 20, 2022

Belfast: Editor Una Ni Dhonghaile

Belfast, from Focus Features, is a movie straight from writer/director Kenneth Branagh’s own experience. The film takes a humorous, tender and personal look at one boy’s childhood during the tumultuous late 1960s in the city of Branagh’s birth.

The nine-year-old must chart a path towards adulthood through a world that has suddenly turned upside down. His stable and loving community, and everything he thought he understood about life, is changed forever. But, for him, joy, laughter, music and the formative magic of the movies remain.

Belfast stars Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds and Jude Hill. The film was edited by Una Ni Dhonghaile (pictured), who cut the feature on using Avid Media Composer 2018.12. The project was shot on Arri Alexa Mini LF at 1.85:1 at 4.5K.
“We worked with Digital Orchard in London,” recalls Dhonghaile. “DNxHD115 8-bit 1080p video files were generated in Resolve and transported to editorial in Twickenham via Shuttle, with all documentation, ALEs and CSVs, as well as original sound. Owing to the pandemic restrictions, we all had to work remotely from the third week of shoot, so I returned to my studio in Dublin and everything was simultaneously made available to download. The first assistant would email me the relevant Avid scene bins each morning to begin editing.”
Dhonghaile says one of the film’s greatest challenges was a ‘holistic one’, where she had to find the best pace and tempo while keeping the subjective point of view Buddy alive. 

“We used sound and music as characters to enrich the film and further enhance the specificity of a memory or capture a moment in time,” she explains. “One such moment was the first riot, and the challenge was to find the best way to recreate the director, Sir Kenneth Branagh's childhood experience. Ken remembers returning to his street after playing and the sound of buzzing bees that stopped him in his tracks until he realized that this was the sound of a violent mob descending on his street. As Buddy hears a noise, Ken and (cinematographer) Haris Zambarloukas used a circular track to capture his confusion. This was shot at 60fps, so in the edit, I could add a time warp effect to play with film speed and enhance the distortion and confusion, ramping from 24fps to 48fps, to 36fps back to 60fps and so on, as the camera encircled the child. A more creative sound bed of muffled and distorted sounds, to emulate that 'buzzing’ in the ears, was also created, and then an explosion breaks the unreality and chaos ensues.”
By using a faster, more visceral editing style, Dhonghaile says the psychological experience of the family is revealed. 

“Ken shot with two cameras for this scene. There was a magnificent amount of rushes to mine. Some shots used were as short as 12 frames, but you could see them  — a chain swinging, a window breaking, a family fleeing. The subjective point of view shifts from Buddy to Ma, as she hides him under the table and we jump cut with her as she crawls on her knees to peep out the window. 

“Caitríona Balfe's performance was so strong and she resembled a warrior mother as she deflected the stones off a bin lid — shown in slow motion — which had acted as Buddy's play shield when the film began, and doing everything she could to protect her family.  

“The CU profile shot of Ma at the window and the BCU of the children under the table allowed us to hone in on the sound of their breath, which heightened the sense of their vulnerability as the car explodes. Then, by using a cut to black, the horror of this moment landed for the audience, before hearing Ma whisper in the darkness 'Oh holy God'. 

“This scene was cut with a more 'social realist' bias and no music, and, in contrast, the later riot was shot and edited in a more magic realism style, with the High Noon theme informing the cut and allowing us see that riot through Buddy's imagination.”