Interview: Fionnghuala Ní Neill (Dublin Animation Film Festival)

Posted October 19, 2017 in Arts and Culture, Festival Features

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The Dublin Animation Film Festival is coming to Dun Laoghaire this weekend. Fionnghuala Ní Neill spoke to Madeleine Saidenberg about what’s in store. 

The way Fionnghuala Ní Neill tells it, the Dublin Animation Film Festival (or DAFF) causes as many script-worthy stories as it screens, but she might never have time to draft them. “It’s a funny story,” she keeps telling me—but then something on the calendar will catch her eye, or another call will come through, and she’ll laugh, “for another day.” It’s no wonder she’s busy, though, as she pulls together the finishing touches on the festival. The two-day animation extravaganza in Dun Laoghaire features a workshop with Michael Dudok de Wit and a screening of his recent Studio Ghibli film The Red Turtle, along with guest speakers from the UK and an impressive short film competition. And at the centre of it sits Fionnghuala, quietly tying it all together. She kindly multi-tasked long enough to share her journey from dole office to festival hub.

“It’s a funny story, the story of the festival; it begins outside of a dole office, out in Dun Laoghaire in 2008. I had spent a year or so temping, in and out and in and out of jobs—that was the recession, of course—when I spotted a sign, a paper sign for course called “stop-motion taster.” Wasn’t that just what I was in, stop-motion? I had done film studies, but you know how it is. It’s a competitive enough industry in the best of times, and in those days, even to get a foot in the door… I’d given up the dream. I’d nothing to lose at that point. So I left the line and took the course, and I was hooked.

“It’s a funny story, the story of the festival; it begins outside of a dole office, out in Dun Laoghaire in 2008.”

“Now I realize I knew absolutely nothing about animation when I started the festival. Studying film was theoretical for me. I just had an idea and I was determined to make it work; it was as much to try to regenerate Blackrock, which was suffering badly from the recession, as to show films. We were renting equipment and setting up shop in an old church for the first few years. It was a cute pop-up. But as the focus shifted away from the work we were generating and towards the art we were showing, we needed a professional venue. We were very, very lucky that the Pavilion took us on. And four years on, they’re still taking us on.

“It’s still a challenge—finding funding, and finding help, and finding, well, more funding—but other festivals were so kind and encouraging, especially when we first started. We wanted to help out with the Manchester Animation Festival. A funny story, but it would take me too long to tell you. It would make another good script! You’ll have to wait until they make it into a film. They should do one about when the trophy got kidnapped. But it’s good for us too, to have fresh blood, an international flavor. Next year we have two more women animators as presenters.

“We have a social recognition category, this year, too. We’ve seen a lot of father and son relationships, but more than that, a new social awareness. I think that’s significant, especially in Irish film. Now we get to tackle these issues in so many different media—animation included—and make it clear that domestic violence is unacceptable. Well, animation is an area that’s been traditionally neglected, but I definitely think that the film industry can be proud of itself. And we have amazing makers like Michael Dudok de Wit. We’d asked him to come a few years ago but he was working on his stunning new film [his most recent, The Red Turtle, with Studio Ghibli at the time]. But he said, this year, he’d come if we’d wait; so we waited, and pushed back our schedule a bit—you wait for Michael, you know—and his screening and Q&A will definitely be a highlight. It’s such a beautiful-looking film, and a good story.”

“For another day?” I ask.

“For this weekend,” she answers.

Dublin Animation Film Festival (DAFF) invites film and animation lovers to a weekend of workshops, screenings, and talks across the Pavilion Theatre and the DLR Lexicon on October 20-21st in Dun Laoghaire.

 For full details and tickets, check out the Dublin Animated Film Festival and The Pavilion Theatre

As told to Madeleine Saidenberg


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