Irish Folk Furniture, a stop-motion documentary

Irish Folk Furniture is a stop-motion documentary, 8½ minutes long, that won an award for animation at the Sundance Film Festival last month. Director Tony Donoghue thought it might be too specialist to appeal widely, but it has charmed its way around the festival circuit. I recommend it warmly.

The film celebrates the tradition and use of farmhouse furniture in Ireland, with 16 items restored to a functional state. This is furniture not usually seen as beautiful – or starring in a film – but whose appeal lies in its very ordinariness and utility, and in the history it amasses over generations of use.

Tony Donoghue - Irish Folk Furniture - mouse

It’s a quiet gem in both form and content: as if Jan Švankmajer had rambled down a boreen in Tipperary. Dressers and flour bins wheel around the countryside while their owners chat away. The film is gently funny, beautifully shot, and features some lovely rural Irish accents and syntax, e.g. done as preterite in “we done a good bit on ’em”.

I wanted to link to the original on Donoghue’s YouTube page, but that video has since been set to private, so here it is from another page:

Edit: I’ve removed the video after seeing a comment on YouTube from Tony Donoghue saying his film was only meant to be online for the two weeks of Sundance, and that its continued online presence may undermine its film festival run.

If it reappears legitimately, I’ll reinstate it here.

10 Responses to Irish Folk Furniture, a stop-motion documentary

  1. I adore it! Preserving and cherishing the past through careful, deliberate modernizing – it has universal appeal while particularly celebrating Irish culture and heritage. Hope it gets included in a longer work of some kind sometime, on a DVD for home ownership. Precious!

  2. Kristin Fogdall says:

    So beautiful. I am unexpectedly moved to tears at the end, thinking of the objects that once belonged to family members now long gone, and how something of their lives still cling to these objects. Or maybe, rather, it is our memories that cling to the objects possessed by those we loved.

  3. Stan says:

    Claire: Yes, it struck me too how skilfully the universal and the regional were knitted together. I hope it gets a DVD release; in fact, I wondered if that was why it disappeared from the original YouTube page. If I hear news along these lines, I’ll update the post.

    Kristin: Beautifully said. I found it surprisingly affecting as well, the first time I watched it, yet it’s not at all sentimental or mawkish: the tone remains light, cheerful and matter-of-fact throughout.

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    I saw this a while back. Stan and could relate some of the items to the house I live in now, Marvellous piece of filming.

  5. ehpem says:

    Wonderful film – very charming. And the people ‘acting’ in it exude a great deal of patience and no hurry whatsoever.

  6. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Indeed, what a most charming and inventive piece of short film making. Thanks for sharing, Stan.

    Great to see that the meticulous, detail-intensive, patience-demanding, time-consuming art of, (at its finest), magical stop-motion filmmaking is still very much alive and well, despite the current domination of fully digitally-rendered big studio animation, and the apparent fast-waning of 2-D.

    Nice to see stop-motion used with real-life subjects here, both human and inanimate, as opposed to the more familiar tedious manipulations (and filming frame-by-frame) of hand-crafted characters within painstakingly built miniaturized sets, exemplified by such modern masters of the form like Tim Burton and Nick Park and his Aardman Animation team in Bristol, U.K. (I’m a big fan of these folks’ work, as well.)

    I especially appreciate how the film-makers of this delightful short opted to put many of the pieces of folk furniture into such seemingly bucolic, rural, remote settings— out in raw nature, so to speak, giving us, the audience, a kind of quirky, surreal feel.

    But their including a handful of simple, homey locals w/ their folksy running commentaries really rounded out a very engaging little glimpse into perhaps a time gone by, but clearly never forgotten.

    I got a chuckle from their use of time-lapse photography where one of the old wooden hutches was rocking-on-the-spot in a field of grain, which in turn sped up the action of a gaggle of curious blackbirds seemingly dancing all over this odd foreign object in their midst.

    For me, the half-door opening segment w/ the older lady and her ‘free-range’ chickens was priceless, and got me immediately hooked into this film.

    There was even a quick cut-to shot of a large cupboard moving across an open field w/ two curious red roosters scampering along in its ‘wake’. Very funny little touch.

    I especially liked the shot of the animated, twisting cup hooks, and the flat eye-level, close-up angle at which they were shot. The animated surface painting bits were also very appealing and cleverly executed.

    I can plainly see why this little Irish gem of a film has, thus far, garnered several prestigious awards.

    It just warms the cockles of one’s heart. Plain and simple.

  7. Stan says:

    WWW: That it is. I’ve been meaning to share it here for weeks but other posts kept getting in the way.

    ehpem: None that made it into the final cut, anyway!

    Alex: It took many years to complete. Full respect to all involved for their patience and skill.

  8. Tinker says:

    I saw the documentary, I thought it was really good! I’m hoping it’ll be available on youtube once again. It would be a shame if more people don’t see it.

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