28 September 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
Seamus Murphy on making PJ Harvey in A Dog Called Money
21 Nov 2019 : Nathan Griffin
PJ Harvey in A Dog Called Money
IFTN caught up with award winning photo journalist and director of PJ Harvey In A Dog Called Money, Seamus Murphy, to find out more about how the artistic collaboration came about, the inspiration for the documentary format and the concept behind the the Somerset House Recording Sessions.

PJ Harvey in A Dog Called Money releases in Irish cinemas on November 22nd.

The documentary is a uniquely intimate journey through the inspiration, writing, and recording of a PJ Harvey record. Writer and musician Harvey and award-winning Irish photographer Seamus Murphy hatched a collaboration. Seeking a first-hand experience of the countries she wanted to write about, Harvey accompanied Murphy on some of his worldwide reporting trips, joining him in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Washington DC. Harvey collected words, Murphy collected images.

Murphy produced the film alongside Katie Holly for Blinder Films. Isabel Davis and James Wilson also produce for Pulse Films and JW Films, respectively. Screen Ireland also financed the film alongside Great Point Media and ATC Management.

PJ Harvey in A Dog Called Money had its world premiere at the Berlinale in February and made its UK premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest in June. Break Out Pictures is handling the distribution of the film in Ireland with MUBI previously launching a coordinated theatrical and VOD release in the UK on November 8th.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Murphy ahead of the film’s release in Irish cinemas.

IFTN: You are more commonly known for your award-winning photojournalism. Can you give me a bit of background about your work and how did it help with your feature doc directorial debut?

“I think the looking, watching and seeing aspect is at the heart of it, which might seem obvious but it feeds into how I approach filmmaking. With a stills picture, you are looking for the iconic image, as one picture to sum up what you are seeing and experiencing - over the years this has an impact on how you see the world. And it trains you to wait.”

IFTN: What is it about PJ Harvey’s work that you find fascinating and why did you think that her songwriting process would provide a good subject matter for a documentary?

“When we started out on the project we didn’t know or decide what aspect of it would become dominant or central. That developed over time as it evolved and I guess when the recording at Somerset House provided such an interesting bridge between the world we were documenting and the work we made to represent it - then the album and thus the songwriting became more central. It could have taken on many other different directions, in fact, I was pursuing some already.”

IFTN: The documentary is so uniquely told, from your travels across the globe to the intimate studio setting - where did the inspiration for the documentary format and story come from?  

“The big idea at the heart of it was to go out into the world, away from what we call home, to places I was familiar with from my own work. I was revisiting places that were significant to me and which we both felt were relevant. It was a personal thing, but we started the project in 2011 and the drumbeat of protest was resounding around the world. The Arab Spring was ongoing. I remember being in Libya covering the fall of Gaddafi and watching the protests coming out of Syria and the energy and bravery of that on TV. The project was borne of these vibrations and we also wanted to consciously explore the creative process involved in delving into other worlds, realities beyond our own.”

IFTN: How did Blinder and Pulse Films get involved?

“Initially Jim Wilson, producer of Under the Skin, was intrigued by the project after I showed him some early footage. He became involved and eventually reached out to Katie Holly at Blinder and that’s when things properly kicked off. Pulse came on board subsequently, Blinder was instrumental in getting financing from a Screen Ireland.”

IFTN: I was really interested in the Somerset House Recording Sessions in front of the public. Can you tell me a little bit more about the concept?

“Fascinating public installation of the recording of an album. It was such a unique and risky idea and the material and discussions all came from experiences and stories from our travels so it was naturally going to be key to the film.”

IFTN: What do you have planned next?

“I have a book coming out next year on Russia and America, and their curious relationship, that I have been working on over the years and I am also making a film on the same theme. I am developing a film with Dubliner Tom Burke on poet Pat Ingoldsby, a great man who is much loved, but elusive. This will also be a film about Dublin, which has got development funding from Screen Ireland.”

PJ Harvey in A Dog Called Money releases in Irish cinemas on November 22nd.

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