“I told him my idea and he sat there silently.”
“I have to admit I wasn’t really into Damo’s music. I was dismissive, and whilst aware of him, more interested in hip hop, drum and bass and dance music. I guess I wasn’t ready for it.
As I got older, I listened again and became more deeply affected by it. And then I got to go to see one of his shows and that took it to the next level.
I sat in Vicar Street with my wife who was pregnant at the time. I spent the whole gig watching the crowd – watching these men crying, arm in arm, letting go. Damo is like a shamanic spiritual leader, getting everyone to sing along.
You could see he was singing about stuff he clearly knew about and experienced. My mum was very sick with dementia at the time, we’d kind of lost the person we knew. Everyone there was feeling something. It’s all relative. I even wept myself.
“Afterwards, myself and Ross McDonnell (the D.O.P.) met for a pint. He’d said he’d been at the show a year earlier and was amazed too. We decided there and then to make the documentary.
The first job of it was to capture what happens in that room every Christmas and to get into the stories of the fans and why it resonates so deeply with them. It’s a time of year when people are looking back and forwards, they are emotionally introspective so that adds to the whole piece.
“I brought the treatment to Damo and met him in a cafe in Donaghmede. I told him my idea and he sat there silently. I was thinking, ‘He thinks I’m a dick.’ But at the end he listened and considered it and said, ‘I love it Ross. Let’s make a film that helps people.’ That was the golden rule from the start of the process, can we do something that helps people to see something in the film that they see in themselves?
“In terms of finding the fans to follow, in truth Damo was the first port of call as he knows them best. I was looking for a mix, someone looking back, looking forward and in the midst of whatever trauma they were going through.
“We found them in Jonathan who was the kind of wise owl, insightful, and found solace in swimming. Packie was going through stuff and Nadia was finding her ground. I used the elements as a loose narrative thread and had Nadia as earth, Packie as fire, Jonathan as water and Damo as air.
“I ended up wanting Damo to be more of a character in the film, not like a rock star on a separate stage. It feels like he’s going through what others are, in that room, on that night, therefore I wanted to treat his story the same way as we treat the other cast in that film – it’s a community and he happens to be part of it.
“I felt great, so glad we had captured it just before Covid struck. We ended up editing it during Covid. It felt like a cafe archive from the 1920s at times – remembering that we used to go to gigs, stand together, hug each other. I hope the film makes people appreciate the sense of community one has when listening to music with other people and its healing powers.
I want people’s experience of it to be similar to that of one of Damo’s gigs, you go in and let it all out, Damo helps you do it and you feel great at the end – everyone walks out feeling fantastic. I wanted to follow a similar arc and hopefully everyone comes out of the cinema feeling good.”
Love Yourself Today is a Motherland Production in association with Thirty Nine films. It is produced by Ross Killeen and Louise Byrne with Ross McDonnell and Rory Gilmartin serving as executive producers with backing from Screen Ireland. Edited by IFTA award-winning Mick Mahon. Shot by Narayan Van Maele with an original soundtrack composed by John Reynolds and Damien Dempsey. It is released on November 5.
Photos: Ross McDonnell