A SHORT DOCUMENTARY film about Irish folk furniture is to feature at the prestigious Sundance film festival.
Irish Folk Furniture is an animated tale that brings new life to the culture and social history of Irish farmhouse furniture, and is directed by Tony Donoghue and produced by Cathal Black under the IFB ‘Frameworks’ animated short film scheme.
TheJournal.ie reported last week that a feature-length Irish documentary, The Summit, has been chosen to screen in competition at Sundance.
The festivals are rolling in for Irish Folk Furniture – although its director assumed that it would be far too niche to appeal to the likes of Sundance. But its stop-motion story of the handmade furniture found in Irish farms in Tipperary has proved a hit with festivals worldwide.
“I thought it was way too specialist,” he admitted. “What surprised me is it has already played seven documentary festivals.”
Donoghue has spent a decade researching and interviewing on the topic of folk furniture in the rural community where he grew up. He told TheJournal.ie. that he found that people’s attitudes towards it wasn’t always positive: “I realised farmers really do not appreciate their furniture as anything special. It was seen as functional.”
He also realised that “there was almost nowhere else in the world that families knew the whole history of their furniture”, and set out to make a film that celebrated this tradition.
He wanted to make something that would draw farmers’ attention to what they have hidden in their sheds and farms, and the entire film took three years to make. It features stop-motion animation, audio clips of interviews, and was truly a community effort, with the farmers and their families drafted in to help.
A farmer who restores furniture is featured in the film, and Donoghue explained that the items were made by farmer-carpenters themselves, and are functional rather than beautiful. Because of this, farmers don’t often appreciate the items, and think they are worthless. “They just take it for granted.”
“In the course of this film we take 16 items, restore them and give them back to the farmers,” said Donoghue. “Older farmers tend to not want to put them into the house.” But younger farmers do tend to be more interested.
The film was all shot within two miles of Donoghue’s house using a camera bought for €150 on EBay. “It’s a totally community-based project,” he said, adding that he set out to make it in an environmentally-friendly way – the company transport is a bicycle and only natural light was used during filming.
Donoghue described the furniture as coming from a “pre-industrial society”, which reflects the farming methods still used in the area. He has left in idiosyncratic parts of the film, and glitches that others might leave out. “The primitiveness of the animation is totally keeping with the furniture – I did not take out bad frames.”
For farmers, handmade folk furniture “wasn’t a trendy modern version of recycling”, and instead had a very strong association with poverty in Ireland. Rather than it being treasured, Donoghue found that people discarded old pieces or threw them into bogs.
For him, this film will hopefully show people that there is worth in these household items, and that their history and meaning should be cherished.