Bobby Sands filmmaker defends work as ‘impartial and non-partisan’

Brendan Byrne. Photo: Lorcan Doherty Photography
Brendan Byrne. Photo: Lorcan Doherty Photography

The filmmaker behind the Bobby Sands: 66 Days documentary has defended his production against criticism that it glorifies terrorism.

Speaking on the BBC’s Talkback programme yesterday, Brendan J Byrne said he had tried to approach the film “from an impartial view as possible”.

He said: “I know that everyone in this community, young and old, will probably have a visceral response to this piece of work because there is uncomfortable viewing in it for both sides of our community.”

Asked if he was still describing the production as “a non-partisan film”, Mr Byrne said: “I knew this would be controversial territory but, that said, I thought a proper examination of Bobby Sands, 35 years after he died, was something that was important.

“Of the people who I’ve been most interested in, in terms of the responses to the film thus far, when it was shown in Sheffield two 19-year-old Northern Irish girls, who studied at Sheffield University, both grew up in Protestant, rural backgrounds in Northern Ireland, came to see the film and said it had totally opened their eyes.

“They had seen and witnessed a narrative, a narrative they had not learned growing up in their households and for me I just think it’s a subject worth exploring.”

A preview of the film was screened in west Belfast on Saturday night.

Commenting on the reaction, Mr Byrne said: “I was a little bit nervous because the film had been seen internationally – it started off in Toronto – and then was shown at Sheffield in the UK and then back in Galway.

“So this was the first night the film was coming home. If I’m absolutely honest, some of the atmosphere was a little more muted than I may have expected.

“I think all the other audiences who have seen the film have probably not been active participants, or actively affected, by the event depicted in the film, and this is the first time in a public arena the audience was filled with people who either were participants or who had been actively and acutely affected, and their lives scarred, by the events of the film.

In a review for the News Letter published on Monday, DUP MP Gregory Campbell described it as a dramatic film, but said it was “a million miles from an accurate depiction”.

Mr Campbell said: “We do get clips from commentators and numerous anecdotes from colleagues, but it is often Sands the poet rather than Sands the terrorist that we hear from.”