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Living Dolls: Documentary review and Q & A with director

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David with Bianca at sunset Photo by Maureen Judge

Set for its UK premiere at the Raindance film festival – Sunday, September 28th, at The Vue Piccadilly – ‘Living Dolls’ is an intriguing exploration of the bizarre world of doll collecting, directed by veteran documentary filmmaker Maureen Judge. The film immediately pulls in the viewer by painting an intimate portrait of its five quirky subjects. It becomes clear from the outset that this story is about far more than dolls.

We first meet grey bearded Michael, who’s unique persona is something you would expect to find on the set of Lord Of The Rings. He considers himself a rogue collector by way of reconstituting old Barbie dolls into futuristic robots equipped with genitals that would make Ken blush all the way to the Barbie house. His creations ultimately led him to produce the world’s first robot porn film. A brilliant moment of comedic relief arises as we see him toiling away in his crowded New York apartment, while casually cutting out the eyes of a Barbie. It becomes obvious that his legacy and talent as an artist will garner him a place in the history books.

Middle-age David is married but admits to having a full-on fetish for life size ‘love dolls’. His harem so-to-speak varies in nature from Elves to Japanese beauties. But none beats, Bianca, his first purchase, which cost a mere $4500 and accompanies him on joy rides and outdoor photo-shoots. One can’t help but to squirm in their seat as he nonchalantly discusses the importance of presenting “stain free” dolls in public. Despite his best effort to create a fantasy world of readily available plastic imitators, he finally admits no amount of silicon can replace the authentic connections he has with his wife and dog.

And then there’s Debbie a young mother from the UK, who sources the origin of her doll habit to loneliness which began while her husband was at work and her young son away at school. We soon discover that her costly habit has put great strain on her marriage as her husband struggles to provide for their family. A great moment of tenderness occurs as she confesses that the dolls are very much a part of her family and to her they offer a necessary escape from the monotony of everyday life.

Mike a colourful 32-year-old Barbie fanatic with over 500 displayed in what is best described as a shrine. He is a self professed ‘NFRB’ collector which he explains means “Never remove from box”, which he feels would compromise its original state of perfection. His eternally gracious mother, Fernanda, makes a telling appearance and admits she gave her adult son and his partner her master bedroom while her and her husband now sleep in the basement. Mike confesses he does not work nor pay his parents any sort of rent, as doing so would interfere with his Barbie play time. His moment of glory comes when he travels to Los Angeles for the international Barbie convention. It quickly becomes apparent that the world is indeed full of Barbie connoisseur’s from all walks of life.

Finally there’s Linda who has over 600 dolls scattered in every corner of her home. She candidly admits that her love of dolls stemmed from a search for her own identity as an adult adoptee. As the story progresses we see her comes to terms with the need to begin a “doll cull” in order to cleanse her life of old pain and emerge a better version of her former self.
The film ‘Living Dolls’ weaves together powerful imagery, coupled with compelling stories which reveal a deeper plot riddled with self-discovery and the intrinsic need we all possess for intimate connections – even if that connection is with a plastic human wannabe.

Director Maureen Judge, sat down with Life for Films to answer a few questions:

Where did you get the inspiration for the subject of doll collecting?

I’ve made a number of documentaries that centred around women and their family relationships and there always seemed to be a doll collector among the subjects, whether on screen or off. In my last film, Mom’s Home, one of the subjects who happened to collect dolls was losing her memory and we filmed her preparing to move and having to give her collection away. Each doll had a special story attached to it and as she gave each one away, it seemed that like her memory, she was losing a part of herself. This was such a poignant and moving situation that I decided to make a film that examined people’s relationships with these inanimate objects – really a reflection of themselves.

Were there any major obstacles that you had to overcome while filming?

I was very lucky that Global Television in Canada decided to come onboard with this project early on and that triggered the rest of the financing I needed to make the film. Living Dolls was a joy to film because the subjects loved their collections and openly talked about their dolls, how they made them feel and the role they played in their lives.

What was your favourite scene of the film and why?
Many scenes come to mind, but here are three that moved or surprised me. Mike, the Barbie collector, had always dreamed about visiting the Barbie Convention in Los Angeles, so we went there with him. The next morning, he was having breakfast in bed and what begins as a light-hearted funny monologue quickly turns emotional when Mike confides the deep isolation and loneliness he felt before he met his life partner. I love watching Michael the robot maker, literally living in his vision in a crowded New York studio that’s piled to the rafters with his exquisitely hand-crafted robots.

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