Brendan J Byrne’s latest film, 66 Days, is a documentary about the hunger-striker, Bobby Sands. HD images of marching bands and garish seventies dance clips, juxtaposed with shaky archive footage and interviews create the narrative while haunting animations illustrate Bobby’s words from his diary;
“I had a visit this morning with two reporters, David Beresford of The Guardian and Brendan Ó Cathaoir of The Irish Times. Couldn’t quite get my flow of thoughts together. I could have said more in a better fashion”. Bobby Sands, 3rd March 1981.
Ó Cathaoir is interviewed for the film. As a journalist, he laments, he always endeavoured to aggrieve the comfortable while comforting the aggrieved.
Fintan O’Toole’s distinctive voice also adds a liberal credence to the film;
“It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can suffer the most that will win” Fintan O’Toole paraphrasing Cork Mayor, Terence MacSwiney, who died on hunger strike in 1920.
As the film presents testimonies from both sides of the conflict, the narrative regularly refers back to MacSwiney’s observations on suffering as if to ask the audience; who is suffering here? Who is doing the inflicting?
Over the course of the film we learn that the act of hunger-striking dates back in Irish culture over a thousand years, designed to empower the oppressed by shaming the oppressor. Along with exploring the physical effects of starvation on the human body, we learn, through Bobby’s own words, the mental suffering also endured;
“The body fights back sure enough, but at the end of the day everything returns to the primary consideration, that is, the mind. The mind is the most important”. Bobby Sands, 17th March 1981.
This documentary is very well put together and though I know Brendan, the director, was disappointed he didn’t get a chance to feature more of the women in Bobby’s life, it’s understandable seeing as the events are still controversial and painful for many people involved (two middle-aged men either side of me were in tears at the Guth Gafa screening I attended).
Having said that, 66 Days is an absorbing, intense film that I hope many audiences of all ages (not just in Ireland), will get a chance to see.