Making its world premiere at Sundance and scooping the documentary Grand Jury prize at SXSW earlier this year, My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes by Charlie Tyrell sees the Toronto Director set out on a stop-motion quest to better understand his late father through the things he left behind. DN caught up with Charlie to discover more about this dark, yet humorous journey into family secrets and relationships.

My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes comes ten years after your father’s death. What prompted you to make this film, is it a project you’ve had in mind for a while?

In all honesty, it was the tapes. In the years after my dad passed away, I began to accumulate things that belonged to him. Some of the items connected directly to him (like a wristwatch or a pair of glasses), some connected to memories (like photographs), but others were completely useless and in no way reflected who he was (like the tapes). Even still, I couldn’t bring myself to throw anything away. I knew I had unresolved feelings towards him and had shyly entertained the idea of exploring those feelings through a film. It was around this time that my mom discovered the tapes while cleaning the basement and from those, I got the idea to try and tell his story through the things that once belonged to him.

We hear your sister’s (at least initial) reticence to being in the film, how much of a hard sell was it to get your family on board to provide their candid recollections and thoughts about your father?

It was a scary thing to present to them. But my mom, brother, and sister have been so supportive during this whole process and I hope they’ve had some fun with it. I think that they also know me well enough to know that if I had made something that any of them took issue with then I would have put it away and not released it. But as a side note – their audio clips are as candid as they are because they didn’t know that I was recording them. I would call under the guise that I was fact checking or sorting out details and make it a conversation. About halfway through the production was when I told them I had been recording them the whole time and luckily no one had a problem with it.

I knew I had unresolved feelings towards him and had shyly entertained the idea of exploring those feelings through a film.

Although dealing with darker subjects such as regret, death and emotional distance, there’s a levity which runs from the title through to the final credit. How much was that born from you looking to lighten the mood whilst working through some difficult issues vs a desire to entertain an audience?

That’s more so my personal outlook. Deceased relatives and abuse can be uncomfortable things to talk about, so using humour is just a way to make the topic more accessible. Despite the picture that the film paints of my dad, he did have a dark and very bizarre sense of humour.

Did any new information present itself during production which altered the course or content of the documentary?

It wasn’t so much that any new information presented itself while we made the film, but we did discover that the only way to tell my dad’s story was to also tell my grandma’s and that was something I never planned on.

The use of stop-motion throughout is absolutely enthralling, did you restrict yourself to only working with the stuff your dad had left behind? I’m also a big fan of the handwriting subtitles, could you tell us how those were created?

I’m a big fan of the animation team we had on this. Martha Grant and Philip Eddolls for stop motion and Marty MacPherson for the 2D animations. I’m especially glad you noticed the handwritten subtitles! Everyone seems to miss that. I wanted everyone’s subtitles to be in their personal handwriting and we do that for the end credits as well. It would prove to be a little difficult for the tape recorder arguments between my dad and grandma, but Marty pulled an alphabet from old birthday cards and my dad’s logbooks. As for the stop motion, we did restrict ourselves to the objects that my dad owned. Every single item you see in the film was something that once belonged to him.

How much do you feel making this film has enabled you to close the distance you felt from your father?

Unfortunately, as the film states, that distance will never close. We just weren’t able to do it in the time we had together and I’m sure that had he not passed it would have closed. My perspective of him is different now, though. Now I recognize him as an individual as well as a father.

What are you working on next?

I’ve got two narrative shorts that I need to finish up and then hopefully starting work on another short documentary project as well as early development on a feature film!

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