Bobby Sands prison diary at centre of new documentary film

Bobby Sands: 66 Days is based around extracts from the republican's prison diaries. Picture by Chris Scott/PA Wire

A NEW documentary about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands will have its Irish premiere at the Galway Film Festival today.

Written and directed by Ardoyne-born Brendan J Byrne, Bobby Sands: 66 Days is based around extracts from the late republican's prison diaries as read by west Belfast actor Martin McCann.

It employs a combination of archive news footage, custom animation and dramatic reconstruction to depict Sands's incarceration and set his actions within a wider political and historical context.

The 27-year-old died after 66 days on hunger strike in the Maze prison in May 1981.

The film features interviews with fellow republicans including Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane, plus contributions from Margaret Thatcher's biographer Charles Moore, former Conservative MP Norman Tebbit, former prison officer Dessie Waterworth and journalist Fintan O'Toole.

Mr Byrne told The Irish News that he was partly inspired by Steve McQueen's Bafta-winning 2008 feature film Hunger, which starred Michael Fassbender as the Maze hunger striker.

He said: "While I loved Hunger, I still came away from it thinking 'Who is Bobby Sands? Where did he come from?'

"He didn't come out of nowhere. He'd read republican history, he knew about (Cork hunger striker) Terence MacSwiney, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse.

"He was acutely aware of republican history and the power of hunger strike through Irish history dating back 7,000 years.

"I wanted to make Sands central to the film, so I figured that we'd use his diary to put his voice front and centre of the movie.

"I decided to give the film to Sands – to let him own it and let the audience be brought along in his words."

However, while the Sands family feature in archival news footage in the film, they declined to take an active part in the documentary.

"I did approach them," said Mr Byrne.

"I had a lengthy meeting with his sisters Marcella and Bernadette and his son Gerard. I told them exactly what I was doing and I asked them to participate, but they declined my offer.

"I subsequently approached them and offered to screen the film for them before anyone else would see it, which they also politely declined.

"I have absolute respect for their wishes."

Bobby Sands: 66 Days is set for a special Belfast screening on July 30 at Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre hosted by the Belfast Film Festival and Féile An Phobail, prior to a wider release in cinemas around Ireland on August 5.

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