ShortList 2018: How ‘My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes’ Explores Family Secrets (Video)

“The title’s a way to disarm a person,” says director Charlie Tyrell of his short documentary about the troubled relationship with his late father

Yes, Charlie Tyrell’s dad is dead. And yes, Charlie Tyrell’s dad had a stash of porno tapes.

But you should know that there’s a lot more to “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes” than that.

“It’s a bit of a gotcha,” Tyrell said of the name he gave his documentary short, one of the finalists in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival.

“Humor is very important to me, even humor toward death and the deeply personal sharing of this story. So the title’s a way to disarm a person,” he said. “If it had a weightier title, would people be inclined to watch?”

“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes” is in certain ways a serious examination of family ties and dark histories, but humor is at the forefront, both in the playful stop-motion animation and in the film’s acknowledgement that looking for answers by combing through the artifacts Tyrell’s father left behind “was a pretty stupid idea,” as the narrator says at one point.

“I turned 30 this year, my dad passed away a decade ago, and I’ve had this growing concern that maybe one day I’ll just forget him,” Tyrell said. “The fear of losing the memory of a person encouraged me to do this. If I live to be 100 and I’m completely senile, at least I can watch this film.”

Tyrell opted to use a narrator and keep the film in the third person, partly because of his own shyness and partly because it made it easier for him to tell the story clearly since he wasn’t writing in his own voice. He still dealt with what he called “the emotional drainage of living and breathing my own father’s death and my close eye on my family relationships for an entire year of production.”

“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes” includes audio interviews with Tyrell’s mother, brother and sister, but he would like to apologize for those. “They didn’t know they were being recorded,” he admitted. “It was the only way I could get them to be candid, by disguising it as a friendly catch-up phone call.

“They’ve seen the film and they’re not mad at me, but I do owe them a public apology.”

Asked if he learned anything about his father while making the film, he paused. “The best way I can answer that is that there are things I knew and feelings I had, but I’ve never articulated them before,” he said. “It was through the work and the film that I was able to get them out.”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also watch all of the ShortList finalists at any time during the festival at shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 8-22. The ShortList Film Festival is supported by Topic and AMC Theatres.