A complete unknown in the film a few years ago, Steve McQueen has become an art house and festival favorite with only two films. This week sees the release of his highly anticipated film, Shame, which stars Michael Fassbender as a sex addict in New York. The film (reviewed at the New York Film Festival here) marks the second collaboration between the director and actor. Their first film, Hunger, debuted in 2008 to critical raves and won Mr. McQueen the Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for best debut feature. Below is a piece on Mr. McQueen written during the film’s US release in March 2009. Hunger is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, and I highly recommend it to anyone compelled about Shame.
Despite a similar name, director Steve McQueen is not the same one who rode the motorcycle in The Great Escape. The Black British artist has been working in visual arts for many years, but Hunger, a devastating and brutal film about the 1981 Irish Republican Army Hunger strikes led by Bobby Sands, is his first feature film. Lunged over in his chair with an astute pair of glasses, Mr. McQueen spoke sternly at the Meatpacking District Hotel where we met, occasionally sipping on a fresh tea and taking long pauses before every answer. Mr. McQueen explained that this was a story he needed to tell, “Young people talk about Abu Grahib and Guantanamo but don’t even know what happened in their own backyard 27 years ago.”
Hunger is a mostly silent film that tells the story of the people within a prison known in the United Kingdom as “The Maze,” where a number of IRA prisoners participated in a series of dirty protests (no cleaning or shaving) and eventually turned into a hunger strike. The purpose? To regain their status as political prisoners, instead of simply regular criminals.