Arts

New doc Hear My Voice offers sobering portraits of Troubles violence

Walter Simons was one of the subjects in Colin Davidson's Silent Testimony exhibition, the focus of Brendan J Byrne's short film Hear My Voice

HEAR My Voice is a short documentary-style film inspired by Co Down artist Colin Davidson's 2015 exhibition Silent Testimony, which comprised 18 portraits of people injured and/or bereaved during the Troubles.

From director Brendan J Byrne (Bobby Sands: 66 Days), the poignant 20-minute piece begins with on-screen text explaining how over 3,700 lives were lost "before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought the violence to an end", though of course those affected by the Omagh bombing just over four months later or other sectarian atrocities during the last 20 years may beg to differ.

"An enduring legacy of loss still remains", the text continues, giving context to Davidson's artwork which was re-hung in the derelict industrial setting of Riddell's Warehouse in Belfast for the film.

It's artfully shot: the camera tracks around the room, shooting through gaps in walls and from behind objects which partially obscure the work at hand, while contrasting close-up shots allow these striking portraits to fill the screen.

However, the most powerful element of Byrne's film is the narration supplied by Davidson's subjects. Their unidentified voices recount snippets of the life-changing events – murdered loved ones, severed limbs, destroyed eyesight – which led to them being part of Silent Testimony.

Archive news clips are peppered throughout the film, the grainy imagery of bombed-out vehicles and buildings still horrifically potent three or four decades later.

A mournful score by the RTE Orchestra is also deployed, but feels unnecessarily manipulative given the hugely tangible grief, confusion and lingering anger already present in the victims' words.

Davidson appears on camera to explain his motivation for Silent Testimony, how he felt the Good Friday Agreement was "great for most but had nothing in it for the people who had suffered loss".

Thus, he immortalised a non-partisan selection of victims on canvas so that "their stories recorded in paint will continue to be told long after we're all gone".

"In some ways I really wish I hadn't had to make the work – I wish those people hadn't suffered loss," he says.

Davidson's work, and by extension Byrne's film, is about the acknowledgement of these losses. Both offer poignant portraits of those the Troubles have condemned to re-visit the pain of grief, the guilt of survival, the incomprehension of 'why me/them?' daily, no matter how much the north has 'moved on' in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement.

In the words of one Silent Testimony subject, "you never get over it. It's with you all the time."

Hear My Voice is a sobering reminder of sectarian carnage we can never afford to return to.

RATING: THREE STARS

:: Hear My Voice is at QFT Belfast today and tomorrow and from May 21 until May 24. Tickets and times via Queensfilmtheatre.com

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