IT COULD be said there is a fine line between passion and foolishness when looking at film-maker Donal MacIntrye’s attempt to capture the life of the UK’s feared crime lord, Domenyk Noonan, on celluloid. But he fearlessly soldiered on with his quest and was rewarded with accolades for his movie, A Very British Gangster.
His familiarity with the Noonans, after more than a decade of closely monitoring them, has given birth to a new documentary, At Home with the Noonans, in which he looks at the domino effect the violent death of Desmond Noonan has had on the notorious family, with brother Domenyk taking over the reins.
Revisiting his first interaction with the Noonans, MacIntyre said: “I spent about 10 or 15 years undercover and decided I was going to do a series called Prankster Gangster. It was going to be a kind of Michael Moore for gangsters – a very aggressive, but piss-take out of these major gangsters, and I was going to walk the plank on behalf of the audience, who were very frustrated with the really wealthy gangsters who had huge amounts of wealth, but obviously no means to earn that.
“And so I decided to go and meet some of these guys in court and I went to Belmarsh Crown Court, where Domenyk Noonan had just been caught red-handed with £500 000 worth of heroin, was on bail and was talkative. Outside the court, he said to me: ‘Donal, my brother, was offered a contract to kill you’. And I said: ‘Well, he’s not very good then, is he?’ And that’s where it started.”
On the Noonans’ frankness in front of the camera, MacIntyre surmises: “Well, I think it’s bravado. We caught him (Domenyk) at a very vulnerable moment and I think it comes back to an air of trust. It’s a very old, tried and trusted journalistic and documentary method, whether it’s Paul Watson, or Roger Graef, or Louis Theroux, or Ross Kemp, you engage and you put in the time and you make your human connections and they want to talk, everyone wants to talk and has a story to tell.
“But Domenyk’s story is more compelling than most – a gay, Urdu-speaking gangster in a multi-cultural world in Manchester, where the police have been accused of racism, the man who has been cast as a key figure in the Strangeways Prison Riots (1990) as one of the orchestrators and organisers of the prisoners’ liberation army. He’s a man whose family, and maybe brother, may have been involved in the republican movement in relation to the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester.
“A guy who was certainly cast as a central figure in the English riots of 2011, when his cousin by marriage, Mark Duggan, was shot in London. While there are many criminal families like the Noonans, rarely has a family been so indelibly connected with key events connecting with the city and then you have this extraordinary charismatic and dangerous and beguiling and scary character like Domenyk, who defies all definition and engages the camera and media in a very playful way,” he continues.
Interestingly, the crime lord changed his name to Lattlay-Fottfoy, which is an acronym for: “Look after those that look after you, f**k off those that f**k off you.”
As for whether he intimidated MacIntyre during the shoot, the director says: “We weren’t going to be bullied and we weren’t going to be intimidated by him. Domenyk was always pushing and challenging and would test and tease, but he certainly liked the camera and always felt he could manage anything I could ask of him, or test and tease him on.”
On maintaining a balance between keeping the viewers as well as the Noonans content, he says: “Well, the way to do it is by treating them with respect. The most important thing for me with Bugsy (Domenyk’s son), for example, was the experiment. Bugsy was the litmus test – one for our role in this equation – we were guests in their world, but off-camera, we still had a responsibility to do our best to lead Bugsy away from a life of crime.”
Expanding on the impact on Bugsy’s behaviour, he says: “I think Bugsy is his own man. Filming won’t impact on any choices he will make. He’s so experienced. He’s been filmed for 10 years. I think in the past people used to criticise broadcasters or film-makers for filming people who are criminals, and would implicate us just for the choices other criminals would make.
“Nowadays, it’s an intelligent audience and, post the riots in 2011, we know this is a more important journey we’ve taken with the Noonans because no longer are we talking about a tiny minority, we now understand there’s a significant minority of people in this kind of cultural community, in these sink estates (housing estates with high levels of unemployment and poverty), who can bring our cities to their knees.”
For more insight on Manchester’s notorious crime family, don’t miss MacIntyre’s painstaking labour of love.
• At Home with the Noonans, the Crime & Investigation Network (Channel 255), Sundays, 9.55pm.