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A short film based on the horrific murders of the three Reavey brothers in Whitecross in January 1976 has been completed and has been submitted to several film festivals around the world.

The actors playing the three Reavey brothers: Dylan Llewellyn as Anthony, Niall McNamee as John Martin and Kevin Nugent as Brian. Photograph: Nathan Magee
The actors playing the three Reavey brothers: Dylan Llewellyn as Anthony, Niall McNamee as John Martin and Kevin Nugent as Brian. Photograph: Nathan Magee

'Reavey Brothers' was the brainchild of Whitecross man John Reavey, 22, a nephew of the men and it's a story he always knew he would put on film.

John Reavey, right with Kevin Nugent. Photograph: Nathan Magee
John Reavey, right with Kevin Nugent. Photograph: Nathan Magee

As John explains "I was always an avid consumer of films. I really got into watching a lot of documentaries on the internet but I didn't really know at the time that I had such a big passion for it. Then when I was at St Paul's in Bessbrook I started studying Moving Image Arts, which was basically a GCSE and I noticed that I was actually listening in class! I was always quite good at school, but it was something that I just picked up naturally. I was actually enjoying it and did really well with it at school.

John Reavey
A still from the bar scene. Photograph: Nathan Magee
A still from the bar scene. Photograph: Nathan Magee

From then I was, like, well, it's the only thing I want to actually do at school and I'm good at it. So I decided to do it at Uni."

John went to London and spent three years studying film production and specifically, Digital Film Production  at Ravensbourne University.

"I decided I needed to put myself in with the big fish really. And Belfast is absolutely incredible, it's an unreal spot. But I suppose I'm really ambitious. And I said to myself,  I need to challenge myself and get out of Whitecross, and my family were so supportive.

"During my time, I realised that Irish culture is so abnormal to anyone in England, things we do, things we say - they've never heard of"

Realising then that he really wanted to tell stories from where he was from and put them on the big screen he explains "To me, it was just growing up. But I realised that there's an audience that would find it really interesting."

Paul Reavey with the cast playing his three brothers. Photograph: Nathan Magee
Paul Reavey with the cast playing his three brothers. Dylan Llewellyn as Anthony, Niall McNamee as John Martin and Kevin Nugent as Brian. Photograph: Nathan Magee

The Story

John has lived the story all his life "I've grown up hearing this story 100 times. From my dad's perspective, from everyone I introduce myself to outside of Whitecross, it was always said, oh, you're a Reavey, It's a name that carries history, and it has this whole back story to it. And when I was young, I didn't realise the scale of it because, to me, they were just my uncle's and I didn't really understand the story to its full extent"

Whenever I started getting a bit older, and kind of understanding the scale of things and understanding what an impact it had, especially on my dad, I knew that I was always destined to tell a story like this. I was always going to tell this but I was waiting for the right moment."

The right moment came in his final year at uniiversity " I met this incredible writer Jordi Estapé. We spoke about the project and I told him I want to finish Uni with a bang and this was the best thing I have in my arsenal, the best thing I will ever have about my life probably to fall back on. And he spoke with me and we came to the conclusion that now was the time. We know we can do it if we get the funds but even if we don't get the funds, we'll still be able to do it to the same standard because my Uni were going to provide us with certain elements of the project if needed. We had a plan A and a plan B and luckily enough for us Plan A is what happened."

Fundraiser gets £20K *

A Go Fund Me page was set up for the project and as John recalls."I can't quite believe what happened. It was just absolute bananas."

Jamie Tarr from England was assigned to produce the film and between them they worked out two budgets. Budget One was to film it in England and pretend it was Ireland, with Irish actors and Budget Two the prefered choice was to film it in Ireland with Irish actors.

A still from production. Photograph: Nathan Magee
A still from production. Photograph: Nathan Magee

They set the Go Fund Me figure at £3000 thinking that they could add any additional funds from their own pockets but incredibly that wasn't necessary. They put the GoFundMe live when they were going to Ireland to view the locations they had in mind. "We put the GoFundMe live, got on the plane and by the time we landed, we've raised the entire amount." John explains. The fundraiser to date has raised £20,000.

Research

One of the most difficult parts was trying to find out what the brothers were like, as John explains "The brothers were just characters in my imagination. I'd never met them. I was never lucky enough. so I'd only ever heard of them. The biggest thing is that no one ever told me how they were, no one really spoke to me about, you know, in detail, like the things that you need to make a character in a film. So a lot of the research was actually finding out about the brothers.

"Whitecross is quite old fashioned anyway, especially surrounding areas. So it was quite easy for me to picture what it would look like, back in the 80s and 70s. But it was a whole other story trying to picture what my granny was like back then, what the brothers were like back then and how they acted, were they're similar and how they looked specifically."

He was super conscious of making sure the characters on screen really represented the boys as they were, so people who did know them, could really associate with them. "We really tried to nail the characters as much as we could to the real life brothers." explains John.

"We interviewed all of the brothers, all of the siblings of the Reavey brothers, and we also interviewed personal connections. Brian was engaged when he was murdered so we interviewed Alice Devlin who he was going with at the time and she was fantastic, because she gave a completely different approach to who he was, because she knew things about him that the brothers didn't know like Eugene (a brother). And obviously, it can be quite hard for someone like Eugene to separate himself from this perfect picture of his brothers, when in reality that did have sides to them, every character has flaws.

"I wanted to show those flaws. And I wanted to show these are real people. They are not just like what the media portrays them as the best people ever. They were normal lads and I wanted that to come across in the film."

The Biggest Production Whitecross has ever seen

The cast and crew. Photograph: Nathan Magee
The cast and crew. Photograph: Nathan Magee

Because they were only making a Short Film of 20 minutes duration, the team focused on four days before the shooting and the actual shooting. They decided not to go into detail after the shooting as that would have ended up a feature length piece.

The film researchers found the perfect house to film in at Tullyherron while other scenes were shot around Whitecross. "The house we filmed in didn't have any electricity, so we had to make sure it was going to work with the lighting equipment we had. It was a four day shoot. And it was just all day every day. I think there was like a total of 30 crew members. So it was the biggest production I've worked on, I think the biggest production Whitecross has ever seen." John said.

When planning the bar location John went to bar owner Lynn O'Hanlon and explained that he was shooting the film but the scale of the production probably wasn't realised. "When two trucks pulled up outside with camera equipment and crew, she wasn't really sure how to respond. She was like, oh, I didn't realise it was this kind of shoot. She was buzzing, it was good crack." recalls John.

Being a super social person John had no bother forging connections in London and calling in favours for the production. "Me and Jordi, and Jamie, who all worked on it together know the most incredible people and we called in all of the favours we could because we've done so much free work ourselves. We had so many favours to call in. And people just wanted to work on this, the script was incredible. the fundraising was incredible, the image was incredible. Everyone wanted to work on it. We were really spoilt for choice when it came to production."

The Actors

When it came to choosing actors John wanted to make sure that he was giving opportunities to actors from the local area as he thinks there is a lot of talent in Northern Ireland that doesn't get recognised. They held auditions in February 2020 in Belfast. "Sometimes it can be a place that's a lot harder for opportunities. I wanted to hand actors opportunities, and also work with some incredible talent."

John adds "So we've got the three main brothers obviously, like the headline performances from Dylan Llewellyn from Derry Girls playing Anthony Reavey, which is the main role. Anthony is the main character in the piece, so obviously a massive piece for Dylan and he was incredible. The older brothers are Brian Reavey played by Kevin Nugent and John Martin Reavey is played by Niall McNamee. Kevin Nugent is from Maghery and now lives in Craigavon I think, which is class. I was so buzzing to have someone from Armagh on the piece. I've known of him before and when he got in touch for the piece at the audition in Belfast, he literally walked in and I couldn't get over how much he looked like Brian it was mad, and he also used to play with Armagh Under 21's. He won an All Ireland with the Under 21's. And Brian was an absolute unreal footballer so it was really crazy to see someone with such similarities and then Niall McNamee was based in London, whenever I hired him and he was the perfect look as well. He's from Dundalk, originally."

Camera ... Action ... Police!!!

Filming took place over an amazing four days in September 2020 and it wasn't short of challenges.

Speaking of one chaotic moment John said "We were filming this one particular scene, in which we had the army tank driving past. We had five kids on set who were all hyper as hell and we had two soldiers coming past and it was in Whitecross Football Field.

A scene being recorded at Whitecross football field. Photograph: Nathan Magee
A scene being recorded at Whitecross football field. Photograph: Nathan Magee

"The problem we ran into was Whitecross seniors were training at the exact same time that we were filming and we needed to use the front gate, so we had to block the road for five seconds just to get the shot. Little did we know we had a runner on set block a police car. So the police ended up seeing the soldiers with their guns and a bloody army vehicle on the road. And we were really behind schedule. So it was chaos. But all we could do was just laugh and the police were sweet. Obviously, when they saw we were official. It was one of the craziest things."

That was also when Whitecross realised that Dylan from Derry Girls was working on the set so there was the added bonus of a crowd trying to get photos of him and with him!

Family Connection

Speaking on whether being closely connected as a nephew of the three main characters helped or hindered John said "To be honest, it definitely helped. I think I approached it in a way that I understood what my family and also what a neutral will want to see.

Because I didn't know the brothers, personally, as my dad did. It allowed me to separate myself enough that I was going to make a good piece that wasn't going to be biased or it wouldn't lose any entertainment value, because I have to make sure I make a good piece that everyone can watch.

As much as I am making this piece for my family, I want this piece to educate people outside of Northern Ireland specifically. And I think that me being a nephew, it really gave me that fine balance of, I completely understand the importance, I've got access to every single individual I need, I've grown up literally surrounded in the story. But I'm also well aware of what it's going to take to to make a piece that's going to do it justice and really get that outside of Northern Ireland and try and take it off."

Covid-19

The pandemic threw a few spanners in the works during production wwith protective gear etc, but it possibly contributed to making the production even better.

On set. Photograph: Nathan Magee
John on set with the three brothers. Photograph: Nathan Magee

John explains "In all honesty, Covid made this production better and it's it's strange saying that. There's a couple of reasons. The first one is that the actor's grew out their hair the entire lockdown until we filmed because none of them had any work between the first lockdown and the Reavey Brothers shoot, it was the first shoot they had. Originally we were planning on getting some makeshift wigs but I was worried about how legitimate they would look but instead all of the actors grew their hair shoulder length, and it was literally phenomenal.

"That was one bonus but then secondly, we have so much more time to add details and to have all the production in place ready to go, because originally, it was a university project, which I was meant to submit at the end of March. so we were filming this beginning of March but because my university didn't end up needing this piece, I had to do something else because of Covid. This meant the piece was completely independent, we could just do what we wanted. We didn't have to meet any deadlines. We just did it for ourselves. That literally gave us the freedom that we needed to make it even better."

The Team

Reavey Brothers is Directed by John Reavey; Writer / Exec Producer: Jordi Estapé; Producer: Jamie Tarr and Director of Photography: Natasha Duursma. Newry man Nathan Magee carried out the stills photography. As John comments "He is so, so so good. We were really worried that his photos would look better than the piece. It was of genuine concern."

Film Festivals

The film has no confirmed release date and public screenings can't be produced yet as they have entered the film in several film festivals "We won't hear back from them until end of summer. With Film Festivals we are not allowed to go public so we can't post it anywhere until it's done it's run. So the run is going to finish around December time and then we're going to decide on an official release date. In the meantime we will have the trailer ready and all of the promotional stuff."

No doubt the production will be the first of many for this young Whitecross man.

EDIT * Correction from £30k t0 £20k

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