Amid the glitz and clamour of the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious awards is that for Best Short Film. In 2013, there were 8,102 applications, from which 62 were selected for the short list, of which only one, IRISH FOLK FURNITURE, depicts, through interviews and stop motion animation, the refurbishment of antique furniture in rural Ireland. Just hours before he heard that he had won the Sundance Award for Best Animation, here we speak to director and filmmaker Tony Donoghue about the inspiration for his utterly delightful film, the characters he met along the way and where he finds refuge amid the madness of Sundance.
Inspiration: My mother's best friend owned a pub – the pub in the film in fact. She never married so had no one to leave the pub to after her. At 80 she sold the pub and took all the fancy furniture with her. The dresser which had stood in that pub's kitchen for 150 years was thrown out by the new owners. At that point I decided I had to investigate Irish people's relationship with their inherited traditional furniture. To my shock I found most people associated this furniture with poverty and didn’t value it at all. Everything in the film is shot and sourced within two miles of my house.
Stop Motion Animation: Furniture does not lend itself to film. In fact it would probably be hard to imagine a subject less film friendly. I decided that by moving it I could give it a some interest without moving into the area of total anthropomorphism. Animating the furniture also allowed us to show its plight and how it is physically constructed and works ...lids lifting, doors opening etc.
"Furniture does not lend itself to film. In fact it would probably be hard to imagine a subject less film friendly. I decided that by moving it I could give it a some interest...show its plight and how it is physically constructed"
Environmental issues: It's all very well a filmmaker working in a community and making a work there. What is better is to initiate something the community can carry on doing themselves afterwards. Sean (the carpenter/farmer in the film) lives in this village permanently and other local farmers are now asking him to repair dressers too. The film set out to lead by example and hopefully it will continue to do so. To me it was obvious that this furniture had great social and historical importance, however I had to live in England for 15 years before I myself was able to see how lovely it all was. Technically, it just didn’t seem appropiate to use a lot of equipment. It scares the farmers. When there are big cameras and lights around they often start saying the things they think they should say and I prefer the everyday ramblings of general conversation. We used a £150 secondhand camera to make the film and a cheap digital recorder. These are non-intrusive items found in many households. Also to keep our carbon footprint low, we used only natural light and the company transport was a bicycle and a tractor.
Favourite moment: I like when Eddie Coen tells how he was angry when his brother threw out their granny's dresser. That piece of recorded dialogue gets me every time. And I know it’s not an anecdote, but I love the fact that Mary Brannigan (the first lady) is 99 and still faming.
Reaction: Only one Irish short film was selected for Sundance this year so it seems a little strange to the filmmaking community that it is a film shot out in a rural region on a £150 camera. People in my area are thrilled. And for me personally it's great because I’ve had a lot of emails and interest from cultural bodies as to how to make their collections more user friendly and accessible to a more general public. I might be doing something on Norwegian wooden churches next; that could be interesting.
The Sundance Experience: It's terrifyingly busy over here. Last night I went to see the English feature documentary film "Moo Man" – by the way, go see it, it's gorgeous – and it was the first time I felt genuinely comfortable in a week. I love cows.
BREAKING NEWS: IRISH FOLK FURNITURE by Tony Donoghue has just won the Best Animation at Sundance Film Festival! It can be seen online at AnOthermag.com for the duration of the festival, closing on 27 January.