Bobby Sands: 66 Days

'I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul.'


With these words, IRA volunteer Bobby Sands began his hunger strike on March 1st 1981.

Sands’ undoubted act of personal bravery brought Ireland to a standstill as the outside world looked on to see an intense battle unfold between an unseen prisoner and the might of the British Government.66 DAYS tells the factual story of Bobby Sands’ life for the first time on film.

As we step through the day-specific narrative, we reveal the man at the centre of events, in a probing personal portrait that separates man from myth, and fact from fiction.Seeing himself as a soldier in a conflict, Bobby Sands died for the right to be recognised as a political prisoner. He chose hunger strike, against the wishes of his movement’s leadership, in the full knowledge it would bring the world’s attention to his fight.
Using eye-witness testimony, unseen archive, reconstructions and animation, this cinematic odyssey serves as both the definitive account of a self-created Irish martyr and a seismic moment in 20th century Irish history, the legacy of which we continue to live with today.

In 66 DAYS we document an ordinary life lived at the epicentre of a turbulent and tragic conflict, which then became extraordinary as a young idealist starved himself to death to preserve the integrity of the republican movement he loyally served. The film charts how Sands became the architect of his own destiny, and saw him ascend into the ranks of international icon status.

Sands own words form the heart of the film, through his many poems, letters and ‘comms’ all penned inside prison, and in particular, his personal diary which he kept for the first 17 days of his hunger strike. Sands’ collected writings provide an invaluable window into his beliefs, feelings and aspirations. They serve to place his voice at the centre of the film and take us inside his head, the place where Sands eventually found freedom.
Sands’ prison diary is perhaps the most unique historical document in existence of one man’s articulation of his beliefs while on hunger strike. This powerful handwritten diary has never been seen before in public, and we have secured exclusive access to this historical treasure trove, which forms the spine of the film’s narrative.

Threaded through Sands’ personal biography we bring our audience on a parallel journey of understanding to reveal the events that first politicised the young Sands and the influences of Irish Republican history on Sands’ actions which he learned during his imprisonment. In this regard, the film is as interested in the WHY of Bobby Sands’ story as it is the WHAT.Sands died on May 5th 1981, aged 27 and parliaments across the world stopped for a minute's silence in his honour.

While Sands came to prominence in death, this film aims for the first time to explore his life, examining the powerful character he was as it charts the reasons he chose the death of a martyr.66 DAYS unifies the myriad threads of the complex, 25-year long Northern Ireland conflict into one single overarching narrative. In the film’s final chapter, we capture Sands’ legacy. Former comrades and commentators reflect on how the 66 days of Sands’ 1981 hunger strike changed Irish history forever.

Bobby Sands: 66 Days Trailer

Bobby Sands: 66 Days Director's Take

 

Reviews

Empire ★★★★

 

A documentary look at IRA man Bobby Sands’s 66-day hunger strike that resulted in his death in 1981, as well as his earlier life, the troubled Northern Ireland he lived in and how his death was mythologised – most of all by himself.

There’s an Iain M. Banks line: ‘Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.’ It’s a thought a lot of filmmakers who get seduced by Irish Republicanism’s blend of romanticism and murderousness could do with remembering, and in keeping it at least half in mind, Brendan J. Byrne’s doc is instantly one of the best on the Troubles yet made.

 Brendan J. Byrne’s doc is one of the best on the Troubles yet made. 
It’s easy to miss that at the same time as the news showed murky footage of balaclava dudes in Armagh, the disco era was in full swing in Belfast, and it’s this juxtaposition Byrne and editor Paul Devlin make great shakes of in their examination of the weird blend of ancient and modern in Sands’s hunger strike. Talking heads remind us it’s a tradition that goes back to the Book of Job and with roots deep in Irish culture – and it’s the self-conscious self-mythologising of Sands the film both finds its greatest strengths in showing, but also fails to interrogate seriously.

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The Guardian ★★★★


Bobby Sands: 66 Days review – insight into a desperate man

An authoritative documentary about the IRA hunger striker gets to the heart of its subject.

A contentious subject – the role of Bobby Sands, and of hunger strikes in general, in the Irish republican movement – is approached with intelligence and restraint in this thorough and well-researched documentary. Director Brendan J Byrne combines authoritative analysis of the philosophical and political impact of Sands’s death with a visual component that is more daringly unpredictable: sometimes poetic, sometimes impressionistic images are juxtaposed against the words of Sands and the voices of interviewees. The use of archive material – stills and clips of Northern Ireland are blended and overlaid with other, more esoteric images – is adventurous and manages to evoke a broader sense of both the tensions, and of the quotidian daily life of the period.

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The Telegraph ★★★★

Bobby Sands: 66 Days is a searing, indelible portrait of martyrdom

Bobby Sands: 66 Days, the new film from the Belfast-born documentarian Brendan J. Byrne, could be accused of mythologising its subject. And while that reaction would be understandable, it’s also wrong. Byrne’s film is concerned with the process and practice of myth-making: the way the right person, or action, or face, can capture a moment, or galvanise a movement – and, for both good and ill, transform politics into something like art. 

It offers a forensic look back at the story of Sands himself, the IRA hunger striker who died aged 27 in the hospital at Maze Prison, County Down, after 66 days of self-imposed starvation, and the slow swell of preconditions, over many years previously, that made the stand-off not just possible, but somehow inevitable. 


The film is structured around the strike itself, which ran from March 1 until May 5, 1981 – but there are frequent temporal sidesteps, both into Sands’s earlier life (there is an excerpt from Sands’ writing in which he talks of joining the Provisional IRA at the age of 18 “with an M-1 carbine and enough hate to topple the world”) and also deeper into history.

Irish Times ★★★★

Bobby Sands: 66 Days review: A gripping tale of terrible times
Structured around Sands’s decline, 66 Days powers us through a socio-political maelstrom


With the deadening inevitability of rain at a barbecue, Unionist politicians have complained about modest public funds being passed to Brendan J Byrne’s excellent documentary on the 1981 republican hunger strikes.

Of course they hadn’t seen the thing when they lodged their objections. Would the likes of Sammy Wilson MP be won over by the finished work?

Well, 66 Days does romanticise just a little. Peter Strain and Ryan Kane’s beautiful animations accompany melodic readings by Martin McCann from Bobby Sands’s prison diary to create an unmistakably heroic representation of the hunger striker. But Byrne cleverly contextualises his work by showing the set being built – wooden walls for the cell – while a voice discusses how Sands has been swallowed up by successive representations. The film-makers are alert to the dangers.