Sunday 25 September 2016

This gorgeous child-friendly LGBT film was made by an Irish woman, and the critics love it

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 25/07/2016 | 14:46

Kate Dolan directing on the set of Little Doll.
Kate Dolan directing on the set of Little Doll.
A scene from Little Doll.
A scene from Little Doll.
Writer and director Kate Dolan at the Berlinale Film Festival.
A scene from Little Doll.

As the international GAZE film festival kicks off this weekend, one young Dublin filmmaker is hoping to shine a light on LGBT children with the sensitive story of a 10-year-old girl experiencing her first crush.

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Written and directed by Kate Dolan (26), Little Doll traces the instant emotional connection between Eleanor (Ciara Gallagher) and Alex (Sophie Power) after a chance meeting at a toy shop through a sleepover, during which their relationship draws speculation from their peers.

The crowd-funded short has been gaining momentum on the festival circuit, and was the only Irish film to screen at the prestigious Berlinale earlier this year. It was also included in Toronto and London’s LGBT film festivals, and had its first Irish screening last month at the IFI Family Festival.

“Since we’ve screened it, a lot of parents, older people and even my own family have said they had no idea those kind of feelings would happen so young,” says Kate, who wrote and directed the film.

“Being gay is always tied to sex and sexuality, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be gay before you’re sexually active or thinking about sex. It’s also about feelings and having an emotional or a romantic connection that has nothing to do with sex.“

From Fairview, Dublin, Kate studied film and television production at IADT, and says the experience of making her graduate film inspired her to create a more autobiographical work.

“That film was quite well received and it went to a lot of festivals, but the content wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I was making a film more to please my lecturers and that I thought would do well rather than what I wanted to make.

Kate Dolan directing on the set of Little Doll.
Kate Dolan directing on the set of Little Doll.

“I was thinking a lot about growing up gay and how I knew since I was about eight years old. I was thinking, ‘is that just me or is that everyone?’”

After surveying her LGBT friends, Kate realised she wasn’t alone, and decided to write a story that represented the experiences of LGBT children.

“It makes me angry now thinking that I didn’t voice to anyone how I was feeling until I was 16, and I didn’t tell my family until I was 18. That’s a good part of 10 years that you’re suffering in silence with emotions that you don’t understand,” she says.

Kate mentions the absence of LGBT characters in film and television as a particular problem for children growing up.

Writer and director Kate Dolan at the Berlinale Film Festival.
Writer and director Kate Dolan at the Berlinale Film Festival.

“You couldn’t look at a TV show and see two boys or two girls kissing or liking each other, so you have no reference point, and you assume what you’re feeling is wrong and you don’t voice it to anybody.”

She recalls seeing her first same-sex kiss on TV when she was 14 as shows like The L Word and Sugar Rush began airing in Ireland.

“It’s the first time that all those things you’ve been thinking for so many years are being depicted in front of you. You feel normal. You realise that other people must be feeling like this, and it makes you feel more comfortable about yourself,” she says.

Popular culture has moved on a long way since then, and since Ireland gave a resounding ‘yes’ to marriage equality last year, the LGBT community is more visible than ever.

A scene from Little Doll.
A scene from Little Doll.

“Since the same-sex marriage referendum, it’s a conversation parents are probably having more with their kids, and that’s a really good thing.

“Gay people aren’t just in gay bars or in the closet now. Even straight parents are likely to address it with their kids,” says Kate.

“But I think that a lot of straight people and parents never think that their children would be thinking those things so young. I wanted to make a film that you could screen to children and parents.”

A scene from Little Doll.
A scene from Little Doll.

Although Kate wants her film to spark discussions in families about being LGBT, she says the most important thing is for questioning kids to feel comfortable with their identity.

“It’s hard to come out to other people but the hardest thing is to come out to yourself. You think of it all the time, but you’re saying to yourself, ‘no, no, don’t even think about that’," she explains.

“I remember writing down ‘I’m gay’ on a piece of paper when I was about 11 or 12, and just crumpling it up and throwing it in the bin. That was my first step, and it still takes years and is really hard, but that acceptance of yourself is the most important step anyone can take.”

Little Doll will screen as part of the Irish Shorts programme at the GAZE Film Festival on Sunday, July 31 at the Light House Cinema. For more information, visit gaze.ie.

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