Scenes in 'Dolls' emerged from my own warped mind, says film-maker

Lecturer Kelly Holmes’ short film is competing in the Viewster Online Film Festival for the £41,000 prize

June 26, 2014

A distinctly sinister short film by a University of Derby academic is competing for a prize in an international online film festival.

Now a lecturer in film and media, Kelly Holmes worked in music television before completing a master’s and moving over into teaching theory and production skills. She has been involved in local film-making in the East Midlands and worked as an art director and assistant director for an American Film Institute workshop to support female film-makers.

She is also herself a practising film-maker. In her own creative work, says Dr Holmes, “my mind wanders towards the more extreme and fantasy level. As in Grimms’ fairy tales, I tend towards the macabre without it actually being made explicit. I was an only child and lived next to a field and woods, so I went out for entire days living in my own world.”

Her earlier shorts included The Grab, which she describes as “straight horror”, and Donor, “bordering on the edges of horror and fantasy”. The latter is about “a depressed housewife in her fifties who wakes up missing a kidney. It’s been cut out and she finds huge scars on her torso, but she doesn’t tell anyone because it feels as if someone is paying her attention for the first time. No matter how painful such contact is, it is better than feeling nothing.”

Dr Holmes’ latest film, Dolls, is equally unsettling. It tells the story of George (played by Derby actor Dean Whatton, who has appeared in Game of Thrones) and his sister Tabitha, who seems trapped in a Victorian doll’s house. It was filmed in a playroom with more than 100 porcelain dolls lovingly constructed in the university’s television studio with the help of staff and students. Gavin Struthers, the director of photography, already has credits on programmes ranging from Downton Abbey to Doctor Who.

George and Tabitha are involved in a sort of quasi-incestuous sadomasochistic game that looks as if it might turn dangerous (until they get called for their supper). Dr Holmes calls it “a dark tale of sibling rivalry”.

Arrested development

“They live in a fantasy film-specific world they escape to,” she says. “It is also a case of arrested development. They are clearly in their late twenties, although dressed like children…you wonder what they get up to playing ‘doctors and nurses’ – even though I made the film, I want to know what happens after the credits roll.”

Although she claims to be influenced by the American surrealist Dorothea Tanning’s painting Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1995 film, The City of Lost Children, Dr Holmes admits that the action mainly comes from her “own warped mind”. When she discovered that the Viewster Online Film Festival had as its theme the Facebook phrase “Relationship Status: It’s Complicated”, it seemed like a perfect fit.

With 572 films now up for the £41,000 first prize, the shortlist will be determined by public votes made via a “like” button until 26 June 2014.

A panel of judges including American producer Ted Hope will then select a winner, to be announced on 7 July.

Click here to view and vote for the film

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