The subject matter is naturally provocative but Byrne and his collaborators navigate the terrain dextrously. The enigmatic Sands provided the perfect canvas on which to paint a mythology for the Republican movement, claims the film, and he provides an equally useful canvas for the filmmakers. There are scant few photographs of moments of footage of Bobby Sands; he remains the iconic empty shape at the film's heart, filled in only by brief gobbets from his writings from prison and secondhand accounts, while an array of voices swirl around him providing the wider political context.
It's an ideal entry point for those whose knowledge of the situation - either with regards specifically to Sands and the hunger strikes, or the cause more broadly - is limited. Byrne's approach seems to be inspired by the Republican movement which is nostalgically described as engaging with an enormous range of writing around their purpose in an attempt to understand their best course of action; Che Guevara, Ho Chi Min, and the aforementioned MacSwiney are just a tiny selection of those named.
The film's own frame of reference is equally vast with experts weighing in on elements from the history of self-inflicted suffering as protest, to the UK government's response to IRA terrorism, from the physical effects of starvation to Sands' personal desire for grassroots societal change. The central crux of the film follows through the months for which Sands protested - text regularly appears on screen to outline his gradual deterioration - but it leaps back and forth in time when needed. Byrne and his editor Paul Devlin make use of shadowy reconstruction, animation, archival newsreels, academic diagrams and medical materials amongst other things to reduce the volume of direct-to-camera testimony. It both maintains visual interest and negates the concern that the film becomes a polemic. Though it is clearly a work of great empathy and respect, Bobby Sands: 66 Days takes pains to offer alternative perspectives and as such makes for a richly textured and complex portrait of man, myth and movement.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson