North Texas Daily

Filmmaker alum puts his mark on Oak Cliff

Filmmaker alum puts his mark on Oak Cliff

Filmmaker alum puts his mark on Oak Cliff
April 03
00:56 2014

Caitlyn Jones // Staff Writer

Adam Donaghey was enjoying a month-long vacation in the Yucatan Peninsula in 2006 when he realized something: he wasn’t going to be in storm restoration sales for the rest of his life.

“It inspired me,” the 33-year-old Irving native and UNT alum said. “It opened my eyes to the fact that I wanted to do something more creative with my life.”

When he returned to the U.S., he met with an old friend, director David Lowery, and jumped right into filmmaking.

Eight years later, Donaghey is fully immersed in the film industry. He has produced 23 short and feature films, brought the once-dilapidated Texas Theatre back to life and created the Oak Cliff Film Festival to showcase the budding community south of Dallas.

Early Beginnings

Adam Donaghey

Adam Donaghey

Donaghey wasn’t completely new to filmmaking when he entered the business. He and pal Lowery met in their 11th grade art class and bonded through a mutual adimiration for Marilyn Manson and David Lynch.

The duo made a short film together out of high school called “Lullaby,” which played at local festivals. Afterward, the pair buried the film and went their separate ways.

Donaghey began his studies at UNT as an art major. Over the course of his college career he switched paths and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in May 2002.

“I wanted to get a classical education,” he said. “I just sort of took the classes I wanted to and it fell into place that way.”

Donaghey commuted while in college and didn’t experience much of student life. However, he did partake in some now-extinct Denton traditions.

“I used to go to The Flying Tomato and they had this combo meal for $4.50,” he said. “It was a slice of pizza, a salad and a soda, and you could substitute a beer for 50 cents.”

After graduation, he went into storm restoration sales, where he traveled around the country selling insurance and repair work to homeowners affected by storm damage.

“I’m glad I did it,” Donaghey said. “If I hadn’t made some money, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.”

Upon realizing that the sales industry wasn’t a permanent career, he followed Lowery down to Austin for South by Southwest in spring 2007. There, he networked with people he would work with in the future.

It was after the festival that Donaghey delved into producing. He and Lowery eventually reconnected and collaborated on their first feature film, “St. Nick.” The film follows two children, a brother and sister, who run away from home and live to-gether in the woods. Among the trees the siblings take shelter in barns, sheds and churches.

It premiered at South by Southwest in 2009 and was shown at 20 other festivals across the country.

“’St. Nick’ is extremely special to me,” Donaghey said. “It’s very gritty and the kids were nonactors but they were so perfect for the parts. I think that it’s a really great film and it just happened to be our first.”

Lowery has gone on to produce other films, the most recent being “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, but still enjoys working with Donaghey.

“At this point I’ve known Adam for so long that working with him doesn’t really feel like work. It’s more like hanging out,” Lowery said. “He’s a ton of fun and he’s also very pragmatic and business-minded, all of which are great traits to have in a high-pressure environment like a film set.”

Restoring a Landmark

Donaghey doesn’t only produce films. In 2010, along with fellow UNT alum Barak Epstein, Eric Steele and Jason Reimer, he took over the lease of the Texas Theatre on Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff.

The theater had been partially renovated by the Oak Cliff Foundation because the building became a piece of history on Nov. 22, 1963. There, Dallas police found and arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, the man suspected of shooting President John F. Ken-nedy.

“We were going to run it ourselves but that didn’t work out,” said Monte Anderson, board member of the Oak Cliff Foundation. “When we met Adam and his partners, they were so unique and we realized that if we leased it to them, they could keep it running as a one-screen theater, which is hard to do nowadays.”

When the four men took over after forming Aviation Cinemas, Inc., the group effectively revived the theater. They installed a bar and lounge area, put in a 40-foot retractable screen and programmed the one-screen theater with original 35-millimeter films.

“Both Barak and I had always said that we wanted to do a film festival every day,” Donaghey said. “By programming a theater, that’s what we could do.”

Currently the theater is showing films like “Mistaken for Strangers,” “Alien Contami-nation” and “Tales of Us.”

“Dallas has really embraced the theater,” Donaghey said. “People were really worried in the beginning because before we took it over, nothing was happening. Now there’s a lot of love for the Texas Theatre.”

Growing a Community

In addition to renovating the theater, Donaghey has also supplied the Oak Cliff area with the Oak Cliff Film Festival.

The festival began June 2012 as an idea by Aviation Cinemas to expand the reach of the Texas Theatre and showcase local restaurants and venues.

This year the festival will be June 19 to 22 and will showcase about 40 films.

“It’s a small neighborhood festival and we want to keep it that way,” Donaghey said. “We want filmmakers to go back to where they’re from with a different idea of what Dallas is. We want people to get a sense of what Oak Cliff is.”

Through work with the theater and the film festival, Donaghey and the men at Aviation Cinemas have had a significant impact in the community.

“I don’t want to take credit where credit isn’t due but I think that because this historic landmark is a thriving hub of production people, artists, artisans and other Oak Cliff residents, people are gravitating to it,” he said.

Those associated with Oak Cliff agree.

“Jefferson Boulevard was already a thriving street but the Texas Theatre brought it to another level,” Anderson said.

Current Projects

When he isn’t working, a rarity, Donaghey likes to sit in his backyard, eat food, drink craft beer, and, of course, watch movies. Some of his favorites include “There Will Be Blood,” “The Conversation,” and films by Wes Anderson.

“I don’t understand filmmakers that say they don’t watch movies,” he said. “As a filmmaker, you have to be aware of what’s going on and you have to see what’s hap-pening in the industry.”

Donaghey is currently working on a web series based on “The Morganville Vam-pires” books as well as a film about political corruption called “Danny Casolaro Died For You.”

No matter what aspect of film he is involved in, Adam Donaghey has held the same goal: to inspire.

“I want to make films that people watch and it changes the way they view things, sort of like my experience in the Yucatan Peninsula,” he said. “Ultimately, I want to change peoples’ lives through film.”

Feature photo: The classic red, blue and yellow neon lights of the Texas Theater in Oak Cliff stands out against the building’s off-white exterior. The marquis lets those passing by to see what films are playing that evening. Photo by Dana Pisciottano / Intern Photographer

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