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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March 2005, 21:14 GMT
Film focuses on hope in troubled times
Growing up in 1970s Belfast may have had its troubles, but a new film aims to tell a story of hope and friendship.

The young stars of Mickybo Niall Wright (right)  and John-Jo McNeill attended the premier
Niall Wright (right) and John-Jo McNeill attended the premiere
Mickybo and Me has been premiered in Belfast, and there are high hopes that it can promote Northern Ireland as a prime location for movie makers.

It tells the story of Mickybo and Johnjo, an eight and nine-year-old from either side of the religious divide, and their adventures during the summer of 1970 in troubled Belfast.

The pair are fixated on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the story charts their attempts to follow in their heroes' footsteps on their own Wild West adventure.

The two lead actors were chosen after an extensive casting process with more than 900 boys auditioning for a part.

Niall Wright, 12, who plays Jonjo, said the early starts for filming came as a shock, but it was worth it.

"We had to get up at about 6am every morning to go and film, go to the trailer, get changed and go to hair and make-up then go on set all day," he said.

There's nostalgia in this film but no sentimentality
Terry Loane
Writer and director
"I really enjoyed it - it was such an exciting experience and I'd definitely love to do it again."

John-Jo McNeill, 11, who plays Mickybo, said his ambition was to become an actor "since I was about seven".

"It was just fun, so it was. It's a once in a lifetime experience," he added.

The boys joined a cast of established actors, including Julie Walters, Ciaran Hinds, Adrian Dunbar, Gina McKee and Susan Lynch.

Writer and director Terry Loane, a Belfast native, said he wanted to attract a wide audience, especially among those who grew up in Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles in the 1970s.

Julie Walters
Julie Walters plays Mickybo's Ma in the film
"It's not a time we see portrayed in a positive way but everybody's childhood has got to be a positive memory," he said.

"There's nostalgia in this film but no sentimentality. It's just the pure joy of childhood and innocent friendship."

It was shot entirely at locations in Northern Ireland, from the back alleys of Belfast to the seaside towns of Portrush and Donaghadee.

Location manager Emma Pill admitted that the settings in Belfast were hardest to find.

"Belfast city has changed hugely over the last 30 years due to the various bombing campaigns and, with the economic development, a lot of the architecture of the 1960s and 1970s simply doesn't exist anymore," she said.

"The original red-brick terraced streets that firmly set the film in the 1970s were without doubt the most challenging locations to secure."

The Northern Ireland Film and Television Council, which was set up eight years ago, is keen to use Mickybo and Me to encourage other movie makers to think of the province as a possible location for their projects.

The council has a strategy to develop the local industry over the next three years, and its chairman, Colin Anderson, said he believes it can make a significant contribution to the province's economy.

Mickybo and Me stars
More than 900 boys auditioned for the film
"With the funding that we have, we are now in a position to attract some very serious investments into Northern Ireland to try and make it happen," he said.

"When we invest in a movie for perhaps about 600,000, what we are looking for is four times that to be reinvested into the Northern Ireland economy.

"It is significant - if we are making four or five movies a year, we are returning millions into this economy."

The movie was adapted from the award-winning play Mojo Mickybo by Northern Ireland writer Owen McCafferty.

It was produced by Working Title Films - the company responsible for Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones' Diary and Billy Elliot - in association with Belfast's New Moon Pictures.

Mickybo and Me premiere
23 Mar 05 |  In Pictures
Search for 'Belfast's Billy Elliot'
10 May 03 |  Northern Ireland

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