On the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast Film Festival presents Hear My Voice, a short film by Brendan Byrne (Bobby Sands: 66 Days, Maze), which combines Colin Davidson’s stunning portrait collection, Silent Testimony, with the spoken words of the victims and survivors of the Northern Irish Troubles, featured in the paintings.
Silent Testimony is what Davidson describes as his “most important work to date”, 18 large-scale portraits of individuals who had experienced loss as a result of the conflict. Their ‘common humanity’ is captured in the haunted but understated expression each of them shares. The sheer scale and detail of the portraits allows for close examination of the lines, brush strokes and layers of paint that make up the subjects’ faces, their eyes and expressions saying so much more than any TV interview could convey.
In Hear My Voice Brendan Byrne focuses on the forgotten voices of his homeland, those still paying the price of Northern Ireland’s fragile peace. Whilst the events that dramatically changed their lives took place in the past, the film captures how our contributors’ loss continues to endure in a powerful short documentary that tells an uncomfortable and little heard narrative from the Northern Ireland conflict, 20 years after the guns fell silent. The experiences of the contributors are as relevant to those surviving loss today in cauldrons of conflict such as Syria, Iraq and Rohinga, or those individuals and families recovering from random acts of violence in Paris, Berlin or Nice.
Byrne uses Davidson’s paintings as the film’s visual spine, complemented by a classical score by composer Brian Byrne, the beautiful cinematography of Richard Kendrick and the skilful editing of Greg Darby.
Hear My Voice will be screening in the QFT on Wednesday 11th April with Senator George Mitchell introducing the film and taking part in a Q&A after the screening.
When I first saw Colin Davidson’s moving exhibition Silent Testimony, I realised I had a found the key to tell the largely untold story behind it on film. The story of the victims and survivors whose loss remains as visceral and raw today as it was when they first suffered loss many years ago.
The portrait sitters in Davidson’s paintings comprise people from all walks of life, all religions, whose loved ones died on both sides of the Irish border and in the streets of the United Kingdom. There was no hierarchy in their suffering, just a powerful universal expression of human loss.
On seeing the paintings, I realised I could make a film that used them as the core visual thread of the film, and therefore be a cinematic exploration of the stories rather than something more televisual in feel. The audience would be forced to look into the eyes of the people, confronting them to consider the nuances and depth of each of their stories. I chose not to do filmed interviews with our contributors, as I did not want to distract the audience with any differences between the real faces and the painted faces. Rather we would simply hear their voice as we looked at how the artist depicted each of them in the paintings.