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the sands of hunger

March 18, 2009

[Salon] “Hunger,” which won the Caméra d’Or (for best first film) at Cannes last year, is first and foremost a sculptural or architectural work that asserts the physical reality of the much-mythologized events it depicts. There have been other films about the 1981 hunger strike at the Maze prison (aka Long Kesh) outside Belfast, in which Irish Republican Army prisoner Bobby Sands and nine other inmates starved themselves to death. (Most notable of these is probably Terry George’s 1996 “Some Mother’s Son,” which remains mysteriously unavailable on DVD.)

But McQueen’s film is unique in its relentless focus on the nearly incredible everyday details of what happened in and around that prison. IRA prisoners lived naked and filthy in cells smeared with their own excrement and infested with vermin. Messages and contraband were smuggled in and out of Long Kesh in the body cavities of prisoners and female visitors, and occasionally even in the bodies of their infant children. Guards regularly beat and brutalized prisoners, sometimes driving them out of their cells for forcible cold baths, haircuts and delousing. One prisoner refused to eat, and slowly wasted away in pain and delirium, his internal organs failing and his skin covered with weeping sores. (Sands died on May 5, 1981, after 66 days on hunger strike.) Others followed him, at two-week intervals. Prison guards who ventured out in public were sometimes blown up with car bombs or shot through the head on Sunday outings.  (read on)

Interview with prisoners of Maze prison, interview with the film’s director
Another excellent article
Bobby Sands Trust

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