Hear My Voice is a cinematic companion piece to Colin Davidson’s Silent Testimony, a 2015 exhibition of 18 portraits of people who suffered loss during the local conflict, developed in conjunction with the WAVE Trauma Centre. The paintings are back in the Ulster Museum until Sunday 22 April and the exhibition is well worth a visit.
Brendan Byrne’s short film slowly pans across the surface of the oil paintings which were hung in Riddel’s Warehouse, showing off the thick texture of the layers of paint and giving glimpses of the faces and features framed by beams and railings in the derelict building that is set to become home to the RUA (Royal Ulster Academy).
The original paintings and the textual descriptions are devoid of labels and community tags. Introducing the gala screening this afternoon, Senator George Mitchell spoke about visiting the paintings and said that while “the eyes are windows to the soul, [they are also] the messengers of our sorrows”.
In the spirit that “a portrait is worth an inestimable number of words”, Brendan Byrne has not overburdened his film with commentary. The portrait sitters are heard a couple of sentences at a time, giving colour about their loss but never detail. Much of what is said happens in the silence.
Twenty three minutes long, the lingering shots of the square canvases are eventually interrupted by a few scenes of archive footage in the aftermath of attacks, before returning to the faces and their piercing eyes. The audience catch glimpses of a few of the sitters at home or out for a walk, but their mouth never move. The emphasis is on being heard in the sense of being acknowledged rather than making statements.
The beauty of the brushwork contrasts with the tragedy of the stories held by the sitters.
Hear My Voice is a beautiful piece of restrained film-making. The soundtrack by Brian Byrne (no relation) adds moody piano and deep bowed strings without ever competing for attention with the imagery. Together with Richard Kendrick’s sharply focussed cinematography and the editing of Greg Darby, Hear My Voice is an artwork in itself.
Produced by Fine Point Films and funded by Northern Ireland Screen and BBC Northern Ireland, Hear My Voice will be screened during May in the Queen’s Film Theatre as well as at film festivals worldwide during the rest of 2018 before it is broadcast by the BBC in 2019.