Subscriber OnlyFilm

Paul Duane: ‘I sold one of my vineyards. It gave me a bit of comfort to see Coppola was doing the same thing’

Irish director Paul Duane has financed All You Need Is Death largely out of his own pocket. Now the horror film is generating a lot of buzz

Paul Duane, wildly bearded tribune of the Irish film scene, is amused that, with his latest project, he finds himself in good (equally bearded) company. Duane financed All You Need Is Death, a richly imaginative horror, largely out of his own pocket. Francis Ford Coppola, director and winemaker, is currently in the news for doing the same for his upcoming epic Megalopolis.

“I sold one of my vineyards,” Duane jokes. “It gave me a bit of comfort to see Coppola was doing the same thing. Maybe I’m not completely insane. Maybe we both are.”

Duane comes late to his first dramatic feature, but he has long been a busy figure. The Tipperary man made admired short films in the 1980s and 1990s (full disclosure: one written by this journalist) before moving into TV direction on such shows as Ballykissangel, Casualty and The Royal. In the current century he has become one of our busiest documentarians. Films such as Barbaric Genius, on the writer John Healy, and Natan, on a forgotten genius of French cinema, won plaudits everywhere. Yet it proved a struggle to attract public funding for All You Need Is Death.

“This is the literal quote: ‘weird and confusing,’” he says. “That was the response.”


As if those are bad things? The film hangs around a couple of musical researchers who unleash nine levels of hell when they rediscover a possessed song composed in an obscure strand of old Irish. Olwen Fouéré gets to do her thing. It is a conspiracy horror. It is a psychogeographic experiment. Yes, it is weird and confusing. In all the right ways.

“The official position from official funding financiers has changed since then,” Duane clarifies. “We are now getting funding support from Screen Ireland. It just took three attempts. It’s great to have it, and I think Screen Ireland are an absolutely invaluable support for Irish film. It’s just bothersome that it’s so difficult to get a very personal film like this across the line.”

As we speak, Duane is touring the United States with All You Need Is Death. There is much buzz around the project. How much hope does he have of earning back his investment?

“Look, I am so inured to debt after making this film,” he says with a courageous sigh. “A lot of people worked on the film for deferred fees, and they will all get paid. It’s really nice to know that. I may, hopefully, make back the money I invested in it myself. But the important thing was to put down a marker and say, ‘This is the kind of film I want to make.’”

Ian Lynch, who composed the soundtrack, is a founder member of the unstoppable Lankum. This film and that band’s music feel like manifestations of a shift in attitude to the native language, traditional music and folk culture as a whole. Those things were not (for want of a better word) cool when Duane and I were at school. Now they are at the sharp end of the zeitgeist.

“I got asked that question at a Q&A in New Orleans,” he says. “When I was a kid the places that you looked to for culture were Britain and America. I think in the 21st century, and particularly in the last 10 years, it’s become clear to a lot of younger people – to a lot of people in general – that those places are no longer bastions of progressive values. Maybe Ireland has moved forward, while those other places are going backwards. There’s a pride in being Irish that I certainly don’t remember.”

He mentions his childhood in Cashel. Back then an ambition to become an Irish film director would have seemed as eccentric as hoping to become an Irish astronaut. The job just didn’t seem to be on the table. Did he get any encouragement?

“I didn’t actually start out wanting to be a film-maker,” Duane says. “Well, I did when I was a kid, but that was when I was really small – watching Jaws and stuff. But when I went to college it was to be a painter. My mum was a nurse and my dad was a train driver and an insurance salesman. So it wasn’t exactly a media-connected family. I went to college at Dún Laoghaire to study painting. I discovered I didn’t enjoy painting, and they were doing a film course at the same time. I jumped ship.”

Come the millennial years, he was working in the UK on genuinely popular TV shows. I have often wondered what brought him back to Ireland.

“I realised that a director on TV drama is not the most highly valued part of the creative process, and I felt I had to get out,” Duane says. “So I got out by becoming a producer – partly by coming up with the idea for this TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl. I made enough money out of that to be able to self-finance my first documentary, Barbaric Genius. That put me on the path of making docs for about 10 years.”

Duane has, throughout that singular career, displayed a determined independence that offers a model for younger film-makers uninterested in always colouring within the lines. All You Need Is Death is, paradoxically, wholly surprising and exactly the sort of film you’d expect him to make. He speaks of European influences on the work. He is inspired by Asian film-makers. Yet this is an extremely Irish film.

“I think my distributors have made some clever choices about where the film was being shown,” Duane says. “We did New Orleans, which clearly is a city steeped in music. People got it. The idea of a film where music is a powerful force speaks to them. Then Kansas City, which has a jazz history. It worked really well.”

There is an audience out there.

“If people in positions of responsibility feel my ideas are too weird and too confusing to be successful, then the film’s performance in the real world has proven that’s incorrect,” he says, merrily.

He now has the words “weird and confusing” tattooed on his arm.

All You Need Is Death is in cinemas from Friday, April 19th