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Sundance Review: In “Nothing Compares,” Sinéad O’Connor Is Agitator, Activist and Seed

Written by: Melanie Addington | January 22nd, 2022

Kathryn Ferguson, director of NOTHING COMPARES. Photo credit: Benjamin Eagle

Nothing Compares (Kathryn Ferguson, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.

A woman who speaks her mind always faces consequences. And for some, redemption comes too late. It is true now and it was very true in 1992 when Sinéad O’Connor spoke out about her own trauma. And yet as Nothing Compares reminds us, O’Connor stood so we could, too, and that change marches on. Thirty years after her fateful Saturday Night Live appearance, Shuhada Sadaqat (O’Connor’s new chosen name when not performing) has seen a greater loss than a bump in her career.

While the documentary does not touch upon recent events in her life, including the death of her son by suicide or her own similar attempt just this year, it was acknowledged by director Kathryn Ferguson who declined a Q&A after the world premiere of Nothing Compares at Sundance, out of respect. In fact, Ferguson, a longtime documentary-short filmmaker, takes that respectful approach to the filmmaking, as well.

Sinéad O’Connor performing in Dublin at the Olympic Ballroom in 1988, as seen in NOTHING COMPARES. Image courtesy of Independent News and Media

Since the film covers a specific period of time of the ‘80s until 1993, with only a postscript of her life after that, we primarily hear from John Reynolds, first a friend, bandmate, producer and then her first husband, as well as father to her first son, Jake. We also hear from others, including her publicist and long-term friend. We are all a byproduct of where we were raised and when. For O’Connor, raised in a patriarchal Roman Catholic Irish society with a broken mother and then in a girl’s home, her voice was her saving grace. She turned to music as therapy, a way to scream, to get her pain out. The fact that she became a popstar was never the plan. 

Artist Peaches acknowledges that O’Connor spoke upon mental-health issues decades before most of us, and we now have women at the top of their game recognizing their own needs and making the choice to choose themselves, as has someone like Simone Biles. In fact, celebrities today can thank O’Connor for taking the leap to speak out, paving the way for them. As Chuck D of Public Enemy states so eloquently in the film, “The powers that be weren’t ready for her.” 

Sinéad O’Connor photographed in 1988, as seen in NOTHING COMPARES. Photo credit: Andrew Catlin

The documentary is a lovely mix of b-roll, historic footage, reenactments and some edgier experimental edits, with Ferguson exploring O’Connor’s early moments up until Am I Not Your Girl?, her third album. She doesn’t apologize for her and doesn’t make excuses, just reflects back to us who she truly is: a woman not taking it from anybody. As O’Connor puts it best, “They tried to bury me; they didn’t realize I was a seed.” 

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Melanie Addington is the Executive Director of Tallgrass Film Association as of 2021. She has worked in the film festival world since 2006, first as a volunteer, and then eventually becoming the Oxford Film Festival Executive Director in August 2015. She used to be a reporter for the Oxford Eagle (a community newspaper) and then Pizza Magazine Quarterly (a global trade magazine). She still loves pizza. And she still writes for Hammer to Nail and Film Festival Today about her other great love: movies. She is from Southern California originally but has lived in the South for 20 years. She has family in Wichita, Kansas, and considers it a great new home. She also writes, directs, and produces films. She is married and has one son.

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