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Brendan J Byrne - DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

Over an almost 30 year career in film and television, I have documented various aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict. From my earliest work, The Kickhams which looked at community life through the lens of the North Belfast Gaelic football team I played for as a boy, to my most recent film about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands (66 Days), I have told the story of this place from a particular perspective for sure. That POV is, of course, coloured by my own personal experience but I have told these stories with clarity, honesty, and even-handedness.

When I first saw Colin Davidson’s moving exhibition Silent Testimony, I realised I had a found the key to telling 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 depth and nuances of each of their stories.

I chose not to film 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 his paintings.

HEAR MY VOICE would be the story of the people featured in the exhibition rather than the story of the exhibition itself. It would be a filmic companion to Silent Testimony.

When I approached the artist behind Silent Testimony about the idea, Colin was very open to the idea of collaboration but equally apprehensive that any film would do justice to the paintings and the ethos behind the exhibition. Thus began a long conversation. 

We both understood the limitations that exist in trying to capture something unique in a traditional art gallery setting - the uniform nature of the lighting, traditional wall hanging with no depth of background and the complications of bringing state of the art filming equipment into a working gallery. Furthermore, the exhibition was not actually hanging when we started production.

We both knew of an old, now derelict ironworks factory in central Belfast that had been used for some filming. ‘Let’s hang the exhibition there’ we thought.