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Filmmaker, Holmes Grad Finds Acclaim Overseas & Has New Film on iTunes

David Donnelly likes to tell stories: Real-life stories about a kid that has muscular dystrophy and was diagnosed with the disease at a very young age and then told that he would only live to the age of 25. He likes to tell stories about the illiteracy problem in the United States, or his time spending two years living out of his suitcase, following one of most well known orchestra conductors of the day.

Donnelly's 60-minute documentary, Maestro, was recently released on iTunes after being translated into a dozen foreign languages. The film follows the hectic life of symphony orchestra conductor Paavo Jarvi. RCN profiled Donnelly and the film last year.

Originally from Northern Kentucky and a graduate of Holmes High School, Donnelly attended Washington University and now resides in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Walnut Hills. Donnelly's enthusiastic nature is evident as he tells stories about making documentaries, his love of education, and his family.

RCN: Maestro premiered in 2015. Did you expect Maestro to become as popular as it has become?

Donnelly: As a kid, being from Northern Kentucky, I wasn’t exposed to much classical music... not to the fault of my parents. There is a big difference between how American audiences and European audiences treat the arts. The irony is, the film got distribution all over the world, except for here in America. Until now. Cable networks in Germany, Japan, cable networks all over Europe and Asia offered us contracts, but we never received an offer that we liked here in the United States. So, now through iTunes, this will be the first time that American audiences will get to see the film when we have already been getting fan mail from all over the world. And that’s the exciting part for me.

RCN: Where can folks go to get a copy of Maestro?

Donnelly: They can buy the movie on iTunes, and the great thing about this film is that, not too many times do documentaries get international distribution, get translated into ten different languages, that have been produced here in Cincinnati. I want to try to inspire people locally, and show it is possible, in the digital age, to live anywhere and produce great works of art. Companies like P&G and GE fly in directors from all over the world and film here. That just goes to show how strong the independent film scene is here in Cincinnati. You got so many great things going on in Cincinnati and a lot of fims that are being made here. Even the guy that directed The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos) is in Cincinnati. Colin Farrell is floating around in the city somewhere. We also make great art movies here. But very rarely are there art documentaries that originated here, where Cincinnati is part of the story and where it's not pretending to be someplace else.

RCN: We interviewed you last year upon the release of Maestro. In that interview you were working on a few different projects. How are those projects coming along?

Donnelly: A few of those projects have been combined into a larger project called A Call To Minds. It examines our relationship between culture and our survival as a species. It shows how popular culture impacts us in many ways that is negative. And how all the problems we are facing as a civilization: the acidification of oceans, the overpopulation of our cities, global warming. And we need to tackle them some time in the future. So the project aims to state that we should encourage a culture that helps us solve these problems. Just for the sake of our own survival as a species. We had a lot success with Maestro internationally, but I want to have a greater national following with A Call To Minds.

RCN: Do you have a timeline for the release?

Donnelly: We haven't started filming that yet. But a project that we are actively working on is something called Not So Classical, and that’s about my fiancee, who is also a classical musician in her own right. It's a hybrid film concert. It's three to five minutes of a short film and then five to seven minutes of a piece of music and that continues for 75 minutes. We are creating a film with this format because, as I learned shooting Maestro, most people don’t go to classical music concerts because they feel that the concerts will be too long. So we wanted to offer a condensed version of a concert that is much more casual, so that you can experience an entire concert and not worry about it being stuffy and worrying about when is the right time to applaud and just have a really good time.

I want to make arts and the humanities more competitive in a free market economy and I am trying to reintroduce classical music, poetry, literature, philosophy, and all of the arts to a new audience. All the projects I do fit within that paradigm.

An example can be found in a documentary that I just finished called Gabe, a story of a guy who has muscular dystrophy. I filmed it because he was told that he was going to die at the age of 25. The guy said, “You know what? All I want to do is to get my college degree.”

And then at the age of 22, the doctors come back and say that they misdiagnosed him and that he would live to the age of 50! And, to most people, this would be amazing, but to him it was terrifying because he did not have that type of mindset in place to live longer. So we showed him trying to figure out the rest of his life, becoming the focus of the story.


For additional information about Maestro or to order your very own copy on DVD or Blu-Ray, click here.

You can also download the film on iTunes.

Written by K.A. Simpson, RCN contributor