Dublin Feminist Film Festival 2021
Interview

Sheena Walsh

Mam's Old Chair
SUNDAY, AUGUST 22, 2021

18:30 - 20:00 

mamsoldchair.com

A film about repair, reuse, community and the joy that can be garnered from every day objects. The chance find of an old chair highlights how locally sourced, locally made goods can be repaired and reused across many generations.

 

Hi Sheena, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?

Despite all the obvious difficulties, I have found the various lockdowns a good opportunity to work creatively. Thankfully with animation, most of the work can be done at home in front of a computer, so it hasn't affected me too badly. If anything, I found each lockdown a good reason to just keep my head down and work away.

Have you been inspired to take on any new creative opportunities?

Absolutely! I actually have another really interesting project lined up and that wouldn't have been possible without Mam's Old Chair and I can't wait to get started on it.

 

Congratulations on Mam's Old Chair being selected for the DFFF 2021, what does it mean to you to have your film part of this year's festival?

The Dublin Feminist Film Festival is known to feature amazing films by outstanding female filmmakers each year, so it really is an honour to be part of it. It will be the film's Irish debut, and being from Ireland, I am extremely excited about it. My mother - the writer, narrator and star of the film - has the opportunity now to see herself on the silver screen which is fabulous. Pre-Covid, we both attended films regularly in the IFI, so it's a real treat to be able to go there in August. 


You have already had a great festival run with Mam's Old Chair, what do you think it is about your film that has connected with audiences so much?

The film has been picked up by festivals all over the world, such as Greece, Brazil, South Korea and Slovakia. When making the film, I saw it as just a quaint Irish story, with talk of the local characters popping in, drinking freshly made buttermilk and tea, sitting around an open fire, knitting and reading the paper. There is a very nostalgic tone and it's nice to see that these things might resonate with a worldwide audience too. 


Can you tell me how Mam's Old Chair came about, what inspired this animation?

A short story "The Chair" was written by my mother after she found an old chair in an antique shop. It reminded her of the ones in her kitchen when she was a child, and all the local characters that would visit her parents. Unfortunately, these people are all long gone, so she decided to buy the chair and restore it so that each time she sat on it herself , the memories would return. In that way, the chair was a connection to her past. I thought it was a lovely sentiment, and the descriptions of some of the neighbours were very evocative. I decided it would be a good idea to go one step further and make a film about the people and the chair. 

Mam's Old Chair is written, narrated and stars Pauline Walsh, how important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking when working on a short animation like this?

Well, the story was a very personal one to her, so I had to tread lightly about what bits to include and what to leave out. Thankfully she was happy for me just to proceed in whatever way I saw fit and placed a lot of trust in my direction. We had a lot of fun recording the narration. And she was a bit bemused about my decision halfway through to film her for her rotoscoped scenes. Apart from that, she actually didn't participate or see any of the animation until it was finished. I was aware that how she remembered the characters and how I interpreted them visually would be totally at odds with each other.  So, I did the only thing I could - left it all as a surprise, and just hoped she wouldn't be upset. Thankfully she wasn't. 

Did you have any apprehensions about making a short animation documentary?

Yes, before I started, I had no idea about animated documentaries and felt at a bit of a loss about how to proceed. Thankfully I was put in touch with a real master of animated documentary - Tony Donoghue - who really opened my eyes as to what can be achieved with mixed media. He got me watching not only his own documentaries, but documentaries made by the likes of Paul Vester, Jonathan Hodgeson, Tim Webb and Dee Hibbert-Jones. I was blown away by their creativity and imagination and it encouraged me to be a bit more adventurous myself.


Do you allow yourself much flexibility when working on a project like this or do you like to stick to what you have set out to do?

Once I had the animatic locked down, I stuck to it pretty closely. However, I was making design and background decisions right up to the last week to two. 

 

Antique and Collectables, the shop you bought the chair from features at the start of your film, what made you want to include this shop in the film?


I wanted the "modern day "scenes to be as authentic as possible, to provide some visual contrast between the past and the present.  It worked out well, as this shop "Antiques and Collectibles" in Kilkenny has a beautifully painted shop front and when I saw it, I knew I had to include it in my film. 


Have you always had a passion for filmmaking and animation?


I have a background in fine art originally. Then I worked in the insurance industry for many years. I only found my way into animation in the last few years. I find it a perfect blend of creativity and industry and I'm really passionate about developing myself as a filmmaker and animator.


How different was your approach to Mam's Old Chair compared to your other animations?

I introduced mixed media and used a combination of photographs, digital painting, rotoscoped live action, 3D animation and 2D frame by frame animation. I found it really liberating not to be constrained by any single medium. I learned that ultimately there's a story to be told and it doesn't matter how you do it, as long as it's effective - visually and narratively. I think Mam's Old Chair was more of an experiment for me and I can't wait to get even more creative on my next project.

"...I had no idea about animated documentaries and felt at a bit of a loss about how to proceed."

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Is there any advice or tips you would offer a fellow animator?


It's probably obvious, but I'd recommend to get the timing and pacing correct at animatic stage. Also, to be open to mixed media and experimenting with a variety of ways to tell a story.

And finally, what do you want audiences will take away from Mam's Old Chair?


I would hope they smile a little at the nostalgia that runs through the film, and that if they have any beaten up old chairs at home, that they might look at them a little differently from now on.