Hot Docs 2016: ‘Bobby Sands: 66 Days’ and ‘Off the Rails’

Bobby Sands: 66 Days (DIR. Brendan Byrne)

By: Shannon Page

Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army, was only twenty-seven years old when he died in prison in 1981 after refusing food for 66 days.  Sands was the first of ten IRA prisoners to die as the result of a hunger strike in protest of their status as regular criminals, as opposed to political prisoners.

For a film that seems, at the outset, as though it aims create a portrait of a man who has become a sort of folk-hero in Northern Ireland, Bobby Sands: 66 Days spends relatively little time documenting Sands’ life before joining the IRA and being sent to prison.  This is partly because he was so young that there simply isn’t much to tell, but also because this is a film that is primarily concerned with contextualizing its central figure and his actions within a broader social, political, historical, and philosophical context.

The detail and depth of Bobby Sands: 66 Days is astounding.  The film combines narration from the diary that Sands kept during his hunger strike with short, beautifully animated sequences that are melancholically surreal.  These somewhat unconventional visuals pieces are placed alongside standard documentary techniques such as photographs;  interviews with Sands’ childhood friends, politicians, fellow prisoners, and reporters;  and news-reel footage.

Yet the greatest strength of Bobby Sands: 66 Days is that it never oversimplifies its material.  Despite its sympathetic portrayal of Sands, it is ultimately critical of the IRA and its methods.  It takes a careful hand to present such a balanced, thoughtful and intellectual exploration of a period that is still so emotionally and politically charged for so many people.

Catch Bobby Sands: 66 Days at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Tuesday, May 3 at 9:00 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Thursday, May 5 at 6:30 p.m. @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Saturday, May 7 at 7:00 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre


Off the Rails (DIR. Adam Irving)

By: Addison Wylie

The compelling and heartstring-tugging doc Off the Rails centres on New York City’s most notorious transit criminal, Darius McCollum.

McCollum, who has a high functioning case of Asperger’s syndrome and found extracurricular wonder from growing up around NYC transit, has earned a reputation for impersonating employees;  right down to the uniform, the route memorization, and proper PA announcements.  He doesn’t take the vehicles out for joy rides – he wants to provide good service and feel useful.  Despite Darius’ best intentions, he is still breaking the law and has been arrested 32 times for repeating the same activities.

Adam Irving (who has served time behind the camera making realty TV) cuts his teeth as a documentarian with Off the Rails, and he comprehends both sides of the story with a fair perspective.  Audiences are able to sympathize with McCollum, but Irving also doesn’t condone Darius’ actions either and realizes the weight to each jail time served.  The film also sheds light on how misrepresented some individuals can be when they’re living life on a different level of reality.  Instead of identifying with Darius, the reprimanding either comes in the form of hard time or broken spirit.

Off the Rails also doesn’t upstage its own emotional beats.  The film can make us smile with Darius’ charisma, but also break our heart when we see him lose strength – the switch in tone is very clean.

Off the Rails is a real impressive debut for Adam Irving.

Catch Off the Rails at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Wednesday, May 4 at 9:15 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Friday, May 6 at 1:00 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Saturday, May 7 at 9:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, May 8 at 7:15 p.m. @ Innis Town Hall


Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage

Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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