17 May 2022

Wolfwalkers - A love letter to Kilkenny

Directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart speak about their latest film and the upcoming Oscars

Wolfwalkers  - A love letter to Kilkenny

Pictured at the Irish premiere of Wolfwalkers at Kilkenny Animated are directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

For the fifth time the team at Cartoon Saloon are enjoying the build up to the Oscars ceremony which takes place in Los Angeles this Sunday.
Nominated for their latest film, Wolfwalkers, which is co-directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, there are some grounds for optimism that this might be the year when Cartoon Saloon gets the Oscar.
Wolfwalkers has enjoyed an incredible 28 awards to date and 73 nominations and has been lauded with lavish praise by critics across the globe and is described by its directors as ‘a bit of a love letter to Kilkenny’.
Speculating on who might win this time around Moore says that it ‘is not set in stone’ and that ‘Apple is gunning for a win’. Wolfwalkers is backed by Apple who are ‘putting in a big effort’ in.
“We have never been part of a campaign for a win before on this scale,” added Moore.
Soul, a Pixar film, is the clear favourite having already picked up a Golden Globe and BAFTA award but Moore says it is ‘amazing to be seen to be in second place’
Wolfwalkers is an important film especially as it highlights the urgency around taking care of our natural habitats. In the film the wolves’ habitat is under threat and the two main characters, Robyn and Mebh join forces to save both the wolves and the forests where they live.

Director Ross Stewart explains that it is important to him that the film tackles environmental issues which he says are ‘the most pressing issues’ of our time. Tomm Moore agrees.
“The reason parts of the Amazon are on fire is directly related to our consumption,” says co-director Moore. He points out that there are similarities between the story of the wolves in Wolfwalkers and that of the jaguar in the Amazon whose natural habitat is being destroyed.
Cartoon Saloon also produced a short animated film for Greenpeace — There’s A Monster in My Kitchen — which tells the story of a displaced jaguar to highlight the global consequences of industrial meat production and deforestation in South America.
“Their stories are almost identical. The heart of the world is in the Amazon. Hopefully these themes will wake people up to their natural environment and the fact that we need it to survive,” says Moore.
Stewart also speaks about the wolves that once roamed around Ireland and how now much of our native forests have been lost.
“The last wolf was shot in the 1700s at the foot of Mount Leinster. With that a huge part of our ecosystem and culture was lost. In our folklore there are a lot of stories about wolves but now we have no mega fauna and no predator and Ireland has become massively deforested.”
Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart have known each other since school, and attribute being a part of Young Irish Filmmakers (YIFM) to both their own success as artists and to the creation and success of Cartoon Saloon.
“If it were not for YIFM who knows where Cartoon Saloon would be. YIFM was a great foundation for me and Tomm and they gave us our first home in Kilkenny,” says Stewart.
From a small team of 12 working out of a space at the former St Joseph’s Orphanage, Cartoon Saloon has grown into a powerhouse of over 170 people working in several locations in Kilkenny along with another 200 now at Lighthouse Studios co-owned by Cartoon Saloon and Mercury Filmworks from Canada .

Finding a suitable space to allow the studio to grow and develop has been problematic in recent years as Cartoon Saloon continues to expand.
“Our biggest challenge has been to find a space where we can do all this. With Cartoon Saloon expanding it has been really hard to find a space,” says Stewart.
Lighthouse Studios, a sister-studio, has found a home in St Kieran’s College and the team at Cartoon Saloon work out of buildings at The Maltings, Patrick Street and Barrack Street (in non-pandemic times) but the aspiration is to find one shared space where artists can work and collaborate together.
Moore and Stewart say that they are ‘disappointed’ not to have found a home in the Abbey Quarter, which is currently being developed in the heart of the city.
“We are disappointed over this. It would have been the perfect place to have centralised the studios and it is an opportunity to do something really cool and develop an arts quarter,” they said, adding that the space could also have been used for artists to have their own studios.
The pair explained that the structure of the development there didn’t work for what Cartoon Saloon is looking at for its long term plans and security, but stressed that having the studio in the one location in the heart of Kilkenny would have had benefits for the city.
“The amount Cartoon Saloon can contribute is compromised because we can’t find a space where we can all work together and working in different locations splits us up,” they say.
For now, teams are working from home and there are plenty more exciting projects in the pipeline including a Puffin Rock feature film, a big series with Apple based on more folklore and mythology and their next film directed by Nora Twomey, My Father’s Dragon.
Deciding to set Wolfwalkers in Kilkenny was a natural choice.
“Having grown up here and set up the studio here it was a way to give something back. People will recognise the voices in the film as we used local actors and they will see local landmarks like Rothe House and Kilkenny Castle,” said Stewart.
Moore voices agreement.
“I was in YIFM when I heard werewolf stories based in Kilkenny and about the man-wolves of Ossory. Wolfwalkers, I suppose you could say it is a bit of a love letter to Kilkenny,” he says.
“Before cinemas closed due to Covid restrictions Wolfwalkers was number 1 in the Irish box offices.
“We really hope that local families will go out and support it and see it in the cinema when it is safe to do so. It was made for the big screen.”

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