Tony Donoghue

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Synopsis: An animated documentary about repair and recycling in rural Ireland.

Where did the idea come from for this film?
Elsie Hogan owned a beautiful pub in my home village of Ballinderry, Tipperary. It had been in the family for about 150 years and it was one of those pubs where you had to walk through the family kitchen to go to the bathroom. In that kitchen was a big old painted dresser so laden with Willow pattern dishes that it always looked like it would collapse under the weight at any moment. When Elsie retired and sold the pub, she brought all the elegant Victorian furniture with her to her new house - but not the dresser.
That fine old dresser after 150 years in that one spot was relegated to the shed by the new pub owners. I was horrified so I immediately started photographing and recording the stories of the people of my parish with their traditional folk furniture. I quickly discovered that most of these pieces from the 19th century had been consigned to the barn or dairy.
The film set out to show that this furniture had an important social history and with a little love and care could have a place again in the modern home.
As someone who had lived away for 20 years and had seen so little traceable furniture in either the UK or the USA I could see it was really important to try and increase the appreciation of this much undervalued cultural legacy.

The film has played over 100 film festivals and clearly strikes a chord. How do you account for that?
At first I thought I had made a film about just my village in Ireland but then as I watched audience’s reactions in the Czech Republic, in Germany, in North Carolina and in Scotland I quickly realized that these characters were universal, they could be just as easily be from any small village in France, in Korea, in Virginia or in any country in the world. I think even city people recognized a piece of their own family’s history in those people, in those farms and in those landscapes.

The film won best animation at the Sundance Film Festival this year. How was that experience?
It was a strange experience. Although originally commissioned as an animation the film had been selected by Sundance as a documentary. Because of this I didn’t even realize I was eligible for the animation award. Also, festivals normally give the animation award to something very pretty and very fluid and mine certainly wasn’t the prettiest or most elegant animation film in the festival. I guess this time the jury decided the idea behind the film took priority.

Did you consider other approaches to telling this story, as in a traditional documentary, and why did you choose the animation approach?
If I had made a typical traditional film about repair and recycling 10 carpenters, 5 cabinetmakers and 3 eco hippies would have watched it. I knew the preservation, the recycling and the environmental concerns of the film weren’t enough to keep an audience interested. I had to make a film that would grab their attention form frame one and keep it. That’s why there was no point in showing each and every piece of furniture being restored and returned. It had to work as a film for people who had no reason to care about Irish furniture or recycling for that matter.

What qualities are needed to make a good short film for you?
At film festivals I see lots of beautiful and wonderful films that were shot in 5 or 7 days. That’s not me. I wish it were. I worked in a museum for 5 years and I just have to keep going /keep re-shooting till the film is the thing I aimed for in the first place. This film took three years to make. I knew I had to work around the timetables and availability of my farmers and my carpenters and that’s just the world of anthropological filmmaking. For me the quality that probably is the most important (after a good idea of course) is patience and determination. For the opening sequence of my film before this one I shot the opening sequence 33 times. Why? Because I knew I hadn’t yet got want I needed. That film also got selected for Sundance Film Festival.

What advice do you have for someone who is about to make their first short film?
I always think a good question is “Would you pay for it? Would you want to make sure it got made if someone else came to you with this idea?”
You really have to pitch an idea that you really believe in and then demonstrate that you really believe in your idea, that you believe in your script. That does not mean blindly decide its great and others should too. No, it means you have to work on it till it is so visionary that it simply has to get made. I used to run an animation department at an art college and I always told students before pitching their term projects: don’t give me any choice, pitch it so I to want to help get this project made.

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