Don Duncan

Alternative History as an Apt Cinematic Narrative Form for the Expression of Irish Postcolonial Identity

Year: 2017

Keywords: , ,


Independent Filmmaker, Journalist
(at time of presentation)

Personal profile:

Don Duncan is an Irish film-maker and journalist, currently based in Brussels.

He has lived, worked and made films in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East. Don speaks fluent French and Irish, and intermediate Arabic (Standard Classical and Levantine) and holds a bachelor's degree in literature from Trinity College Dublin and master's degrees in politics and journalism from Columbia University in New York.

In 2016, he graduated with a masters in Film Directing from INSAS, the Belgian state film school.

He is currently developing an alternative history film project set in a contemporary alternative Ireland, 50 years after a fictitious socialist revolution.



See also:
ALKON, Paul, “Broad, Sunlit Uplands”: An Appreciation of Churchill’s Essay, Finest Hour: Journal of Churchill Center and Societies, N°103, 1999
BRECHT, Bertolt, “On Chinese Acting,” The Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, (Sept., 1961), pp. 130-136
FANON, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth, (London: Penguin, 2001)
FERGUSON, Niall (ed.), Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, (New York, Basic Books, 1997)
KAYE, Simon T., “Challenging Certainty: The Utility and History of Counterfactualism,” History and Theory, N°49, 2010
RANSOM, Amy J., “Warping Time: Alternative History, Historical Fantasy and the Postmodern uchronie québécoises,” Extrapolations, Vol. 51 N°2, 2010
WIDMANN, Andreas, Kontrafaktische Geschichtsdarstellung, (Heidelberg: Winter, 2009)
The Man in the High Castle, Frank Spotnitz (creator), 2015
The Planet of the Apes, Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968
Punishment Park, Peter Watkins, 1971


Drawing on research I have carried out for a masters thesis at INSAS (2016, Brussels), I would like to make a presentation Alternative History as a narrative mode in cinema and examine how it is both a useful and apt cinematic genre for the expression of post-colonial identity, taking Ireland as an example.

Using extracts from films and TV series with alternative history storylines, I will explain what Alternative History is, what its defining characteristics are and how it differs from straight-up, “real” history. I will touch on the modern cultural phenomena that shaped the emergence of alternative history as a distinct, modern narrative genre.

Taking specific audio-visual examples, I will elucidate the key tools/techniques used for the construction of alternative history narratives: “superimposition,” “overwriting” and “estrangement,” among others.

These tools show that alternative history is constructed through a process of the appropriation and subversion of the semiology of “real” history. Alternative history depends on “real” history for its form and logic but the relationship is profoundly ironic.

Looking at the documentary Paris is Burning, and leaning on Judith Butler’s queer theory pertaining to that film, I will draw parallels between the gendered semantic opposition of “real” women/“alternative” women (drag queens) in that film and the semantic oppositions at play (between “real” history and “alternative” history) in the genre of Alternative History.

The crux of my presentation will be to argue that Alternative History is an apt narrative mode for the expression of postcolonial identity because the asymmetrical narrative relationship that exists between “real” history and alternative history within the genre maps fluidly onto the asymmetrical semiotic relationship – in a post-colonial context such as Ireland – between the dominant cultural legacy of the erstwhile colonial power and the remnants of the colonised, native culture.