A film by James Demo
2016, 88 minutes
No. 151


At the heart of the world’s seminal conflicts is an international peacemaker riddled with internal strife. Padraig O’Malley has made it his life’s work to bring leaders on both sides of the most explosive conflicts to the same table. His innovative behind-the-scenes work has established Padraig as a publicly unrecognized but highly influential figure in conflict resolution. Yet, these dramatic undertakings serve as a sharp contrast to the man – an alcoholic bar owner who fails to manage the most basic of personal relationships. His solitary life hangs in a delicate balance, bound together by weekly AA meetings and relentless work. As age takes its toll, he begins to lose his only source of solace and the motivation behind his life’s work comes into question. The Peacemaker plunges us into the depths of the journey of a man utterly defined by conflict.

Cavernous suffering lurks in the shadow of genius. At 17, Padraig O’Malley’s staggering intellect carries him out of Ireland on a Fulbright Scholarship to the States. Steeped in alcoholism and feeling directionless, Padraig wagers his Harvard scholarship on the 1971 Ali/Frasier boxing match – and loses everything. At the Plough and Stars, an iconic Cambridge pub that he eventually purchases, he finds a home with a collection of Irish Nationalists who inhabit the bar. Inspired by the success of a fundraiser they hold for the victims of Bloody Sunday, Padraig finds a focus. In September of 1975, at just 33 years old, he brings in key leadership of the Northern Irish paramilitaries together in Amherst, Massachusetts to discuss their differences. The negotiations are a first in the history of the conflict – and the launch of Padraig’s foray into global peace work.

The genius behind Padraig’s peacemaking model is at the crossroads between his inner and outer worlds. After decades of alcoholism, he decides to quit drinking. It is in recovery at AA meetings that he finds his peace model: that one culture in conflict can help another culture in conflict as one alcoholic can help another alcoholic - because they understand each other in a unique way. On this principle - and against impossible odds - in 1997 he brought all the chief negotiators from Northern Ireland to meet Nelson Mandela to learn from the South African experience. Martin McGuinness from Sinn Féin would call this “a groundbreaking moment” in the peace process leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. Now as Padraig expands his idea, he develops a forum of divided societies from Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Nigeria and more.

As the film follows Padraig O’Malley’s tumultuous journey, the paradox of an international peacemaker who can’t find inner harmony comes to the fore. We join Padraig over the course 5 years while the details of his turbulent life unfold. His alcoholism is replaced by workaholism. He takes no pleasure in human interaction. And with age, he realizes that the one thing keeping the torment away may soon be taken from him. Signs of memory loss have appeared and they strike a death knell for a man defined by his intellect. The Peacemaker takes us from one man's isolated life in Cambridge, Massachusetts to some of the most dangerous crisis zones on Earth to chronicle the journey of an extraordinary man in a race against time to find salvation for both the world and himself.

Winner, Jury Award, Best Documentary, Cleveland International Film Festival
Winner, "Service Above Self" Award, Chagrin Documentary Film Festival
Winner, Special Jury Award for Vision and Storytelling, Florida Film Festival
Winner, Jury Award, Best Documentary, Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival
Official Selection, Hot Docs Film Festival
Official Selection, Full Frame Film Festival
Official Selection, Doc NYC
Official Selection, Sheffield Film Festival

"A fascinating portrait." Critic's Pick! - The New York Times

"An intense, intimate portrait of a visionary capable of sophisticated analysis, abrupt anger, self-deprecating wit, and profound insights." - Village Voice

"An amazing story... O'Malley is a fascinating character. We're all taught everyone has the power to change the world." - San Francisco Chronicle

“A sobering and altogether remarkable documentary about international conflict negotiator Padraig O’Malley…. By the end of The Peacemaker, you feel you’re watching a Samuel Beckett character furiously trying to improvise himself out of the play. In the process, he’s bringing the rest of us along.” - Boston Globe

“A sharp-eyed documentary… a sensitive, piercing portrait… the fascinating subject of The Peacemaker is a restless traveler who has devoted most of his life to conflict resolution.” - LA Times

"A deeply moving portrait of its truly admirable, complex subject... James Demo's documentary profiles a celebrated peace negotiator who has had less success taming his inner demons." - Hollywood Reporter 

"That rare doc that successfully blends a newsworthy subject (international peace negotiations) with an intimate portrait... Extraordinary." - Orlando Weekly

"An intimate portrait of international peace broker and author Padraig O’Malley... The deep heart and mystery of Peacemaker are most keenly felt in the personal struggles of its central character, whose recovery from alcohol addiction has profoundly influenced his work." - Variety 

“This portrait of a fascinating personality is recommended for general audiences as well as conflict studies classes.” – Educational Media Reviews Online