Williams Cole ’86
Williams Cole ’86
Williams Cole has been in the business of producing documentaries for 20 years so when he decided to make a documentary about his great grandfather, called Rebel Rossa he knew how difficult it was going to be. He and his brother grew up knowing their great-grandfather, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, was an “Irish hero” who fought for Irish independence. He was treated brutally prison, exiled to the US and many believe the famous oration held over his grave in 1915 was the spark for the Easter Rising. That was the extent of his knowledge of his famous and controversial relative so he had a lot to learn.
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa deliberately cultivated his profile calling himself a “terrorist” and a “freedom fighter.” When Cole visited Ireland to do research for the project it was very interesting to see who kept on his great-grandfather’s legacy (especially in the North) and how people in other parts of Ireland knew very little about him. During an official state ceremony that is included in the film, the bigwigs softened their characterization of Rossa. Williams assumed they didn’t want to be seen as celebrating a militant! Rossa was fighting for equality and a progressive vision, unlike much of what we see these days. After his exile to the US he founded the Brooklyn Dynamite School which taught exactly that, how to blow things up. He felt the only way to have liberation was through violence or the threat of violence. Not everyone in Cole’s extended family is comfortable with the history of their relative but it is the truth, something that is very important to this film maker.
Cole shared that Buxton exposed him to ideas and a world view. It has defined his life and career. He said, “I don’t know if it was the readings, the communal aspects of Buxton or the idea that a bunch of us felt “countercultural” in the Reagan Era but I have been driven toward academia, social justice, writing and filmmaking that delves into the complexity of the world. My work holds onto a clear progressive vision of an inclusive, diverse and, ideally, tolerant and peaceful world.”
Screenings of Rebel Rossa:
October 7th – NYU Glucksman Ireland House
November 20th – New York Irish Center
For more information or to buy tickets go to www.rossafilm.com
Photo credit Green Point Film Festival