Oonagh Kearney : "Her Mother's Daughters" Interview

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by Alexander Acosta Osorio

ÉCU 2012 winner for Best Editing “Her Mother’s Daughters”, director Ooanagh Kearney dishes on her film as well as inspiration, challenges and what the future holds for her. This interview was written couple of weeks before ÉCU 2012 festival.

“Her Mother’s Daughters”  tells the story of an older woman who stands by a window in an empty house. Her daughters have flown the nest.  As she waits for them to call, their memory is brought back to life.

Poetic, beatifully shot experiemental this short dance film by film director Onanagh Kearney explores the relationship between memory and imagination.

Kearney was born in Bristol. Raised in Cork, she studied English and Philosophy at University College Cork where she began writing and directing for the stage. She completed her Masters in Irish Theatre at Trinity College Dublin in 1999 and wrote her thesis on Samuel Beckett. In 2001, she was selected for the inaugural Rough Magic Seeds Program for emerging Irish writers.

Her introduction to film began in 2005with casting Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley.  The following year, Oonagh received a Bank of Ireland Scholarship to study at the National Film and Television School in London. Since graduating in 2008, Oonagh has written and directed award-winning shorts and shown her work at international festivals.

Most recently “Her Mother’s  Daughters” won the award for best experimental film at In The Palace International Short Film Festival in Balchik, Bulgaria and now it  is  part of ÉCU’s official selection.

Alexander: Where does the inspiration for your short come from?  What inspires you?

Oonagh: Her Mother’s Daughters has two key influences. The first is my mother and sisters. The second is the photography of Francesca Woodman. A year ago I rang in the New Year away from home and was struck by a realization – the person who calls me the most is my mother. I come from a family of girls. We grew up stepping on each others’ toes, stealing each others’ clothes, borrowing and lending everything from music and books, to ideas and influences. We shared moments of rebellion, transformation and maturation. We fell out. We got back together. Over and over, we’d fight and save each other. We are in different ways “her mother’s daughters.” As a medium, dance can express both the idiosyncrasies of the individual and the shared language of the group. I teamed up with choreographer Cindy Cummings who I’ve known a long time and who is very experienced in making site specific work as both a dancer and choreographer. Like me, she was excited by the inheritance of gestures between mothers and daughters as a creative starting point. We talked a lot about how these gestures could echo one another and/or develop into unique expressions of identity. Be it the shrug of a shoulder or the way someone laughs, the inheritance of gesture continues to fascinate.

A: In the process of making a short film, what are the most important things you should consider? List as many as you wish.

O: I think it depends from project to project. I’ve made quite a few shorts now and with each one I learnt something new. I guess I’s important to be clear about why you are making it and what your expectations are –  To try something out? To formally experiment?  To tell a story you really care about? To make a splash on the festival circuit?  With this film I was playing with dance as a language that could nonetheless have a suggestive narrative. The possibilities of this intrigue me still. If you have no money, filming outdoors in beautiful places is great as landscape is free! Filming in busy cities like London is more expensive – unless you go guerilla style.

A: For you, what makes a film successful or a total failure?  Pick your point of view.

I think making a really good short – particularly a dramatic short – is hard. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled it off. I think it’s rare when you see a really good short – more often you see promise or talent or good ideas – but it’s really something if it’s totally successful. Failure is when you didn’t learn anything from the process – even if the film doesn’t work and it’s been a tough process, there is something to be gained in the long run.

O: What was the most challenging aspect the process of making your film? Feel free to elaborate.

Having two days to shoot. I was worried about time but in the end we got there – a nice feeling.

A: The good, the bad and the ugly of making your own films? Is there something you’ve done differently?

O: Always. In the edit, I am astounded at how I have dropped the ball, missed opportunities or become obsessed about the wrong things. But then there is always hidden magic too and unlikely surprises…

A: Future projects? What’s next?

O: My current film project is an experimental arts documentary called Wonder HouseWonder House explores the role objects play in the creative process by inviting scientists to talk about childhood memories that sparked their imaginations. Using these conversations as a starting point and adopting the metaphor of a young girl discovering an old house, Wonder House testifies to the importance of play in the early development of a love for science and art.Commissioned by the Reel Art Documentary Scheme and produced by John Kelleher, Wonder House was filmed in County Offaly in September 2011 and will premiere at the Jameson International Dublin Film Festival in 2012.

See www.oonaghkearney.com for more details!

Oonagh currently is based in Shoreditch, London. She is a director with UK Guiding Lights 2011/12 and is a part-time lecturer in film at the University of Suffolk.

About the author


The European Independent Film Festival discovers, promotes and projects only the BEST independent films from around the world every year in Paris, France.

The selected titles represent the pinnacle of contemporary filmmaking talent from around the world and compete for the title of "Europe's Best Independent Film".


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