On April 15th 1989, 96 football fans were killed and nearly 800 were injured and thousands more irrevocably traumatised at the FA Cup semi-final match at Hillsborough Stadium. For decades, the families of those killed and injured have fought to uncover the truth about why the disaster happened and who was to blame – it was only last week that an inquest determined that these men, women and children were killed unlawfully.
Since 2012, director Daniel Gordon has been working with survivors, families, former police officers to piece together a comprehensive documentary about the tragedy. The EMMY-nominated film was originally broadcast in the USA in 2014, but with last week’s verdict Daniel has gone back to his film to update the ending.
Now that the verdict has been reached, the BBC is now able to screen the film on UK television (May 8th at 9pm). LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Daniel about this emotional journey.
LBB> How long have you been working on the documentary and how did you come to be involved in the project?
DG> I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan (first game, 1979, season ticket holder in the same seat for 35 years) and I had written about Hillsborough in my first book (published 1995). I’d been wanting to do a comprehensive Hillsborough documentary for some time and I approached the BBC back in 2008 with a view to making a documentary for the 20th anniversary the following year. For various reasons, the idea was rejected, but I’m so glad it was because in 2008/9 there was no way I could have made a film as powerful as this one. And the reason for that is because it was only at that 20th Anniversary Memorial at Anfield that the tide began to turn, culminating in the new inquest verdict from last week.
LBB> The film is all about getting to the truth of the Hillsborough tragedy - what was your starting point for that and what sort of obstacles did you face?
DG> In 2012, I approached Professor Phil Scraton with the idea of making a full and comprehensive documentary film about Hillsborough. At the time, he was a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which had been set up in the light of events at that 2009 Memorial. Professor Scraton was heading the Panel’s research and was going to be its lead author when the report was published. Having gained his trust, and his co-operation for the film, I began researching characters, be they family members, fans, survivors, policemen, reporters.
ESPN Films in America greenlit the film for their “30 For 30” series before the HIP Report came out and the BBC came on board shortly afterwards. The film was broadcast in the US in April 2014, and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy that year. The UK version has been delayed for over two years due to the inquests but will be broadcast on BBC2 on Sunday May 8th at 9pm with a new ending to include the Inquests and the verdict.
The only obstacle I faced was that South Yorkshire Police did not want to be involved. They did not oppose the documentary but they wanted no official part in it. That meant I could only interview former policemen about their experiences, not serving officers. I don’t think this affected the film adversely.
LBB> What was it like getting to know the individuals and communities affected?
DG> I remember a lady from South Yorkshire Police, who was involved in managing their archive, telling me: “Be careful. Hillsborough will overwhelm you.” It was said with compassion, but it took me a while to understand what she meant.
Over the last few years I’ve been honoured and humbled to have become really close with some of the families, I’ve always had good relationships with my film subjects, and always stayed in touch – but this has been different altogether. To see what they’ve been through, to be told their stories, and then to try to do justice to their testimony has been one of the biggest challenges of my professional life.
One moment really hit home with me when my editor turned to me and said, “You know what? Since we started cutting, I’ve cried every day for the last six months.”
LBB> In light of the verdict, you've amended the ending of the film - what were your feelings on Tuesday? Were you at court to hear it?
DG> We filmed both the day of the verdict and the day after. I’ve spent much of this week crying whenever I’ve thought about the verdict. I rang friends on the day and found they were doing the same. I rang survivors who were doing the same. And of course the families and those who were in the film. I know how emotionally draining the whole process has been for them and I can’t even begin to imagine how they felt.