London-based filmmaker Ellen Evans’ latest film – an instant Vimeo staff pick and a short worthy of the many accolades it’s already received – zooms into the fascinating, and tiny, world of miniaturists.
The result of a film scheme that asked Ellen to create a three-minute short for Sheffield DocFest, the filmmaker took the literal scale of the brief as an opportunity “to make a short film about small things,” she tells It’s Nice That. “And that’s how it started. Soon I was delving deep into the world of miniaturists, trying to find a contributor I thought could carry the film.”
Although Ellen was interested “in the idea of miniaturism; of scaling down and telling the story of someone’s life and worldview in as succinct or ‘small’ form as possible,” she was keen not to make “a film about the craft of making miniatures per se,” she points out. “For me, the miniatures would be more of a storytelling device. But it would require a special character at the heart of it”. To achieve this Ellen spent time drawing up a database of all the dolls house makers and miniaturists she could find, “and called them all until I found Kath.”
Kath, a proud Yorkshire woman who picked up the craft from her mother who she continues to work closely with, is the perfect embodiment of what Ellen was searching for. A miniaturist who appears to describe the insane level of craftsmanship she possesses with a shrug, as if it’s the only natural to dedicate your working life to making miniature versions of everyday objects, she conveys admirable confidence. “She stood out not only for her deadpan humour but because she’s open and honest and finds meaning in what she does,” adds Ellen.
What Kath does is a very particular type of miniaturism too. As she points out within the short, several other miniaturists tend to replicate historical moments. “The period stuff,” she describes, “it doesn’t do anything for me.” As a result, rather than taking inspiration from Georgian houses or palaces like her peers, “Kath’s miniatures are a direct representation of her own experiences and what she sees in her everyday life in Bradford,” points out Ellen. “So the title, Life in Miniature is kind of a pun; it both refers to Kath’s life as a miniaturist, and how it’s the story of her life in a miniature form – the short film.”
Only shot over two days, in just three short minutes Life in Miniature not only conveys the character of Kath but the miniaturist’s scene too – which, as it turns out, can even be a little catty. Shot at Kath’s home in Bradford, also known as Delph Miniatures HQ, Ellen and director of photography Tom Doran also spent time at Kensington Dolls House Fair, an absolute dream for anyone fond of small objects. “Being at the fair was amazing,” adds Ellen, “to see all the things that people create and the incredible level of detail invested in them.” Yet the act of actually filming in a tight environment full of delicate miniatures, “made some people a little nervous,” she admits. “The DP, Tom Doran, is pretty tall and wielding an Arri Amira I think he posed a threat to some of the more delicate miniatures as we squeezed between the display stands.”
Now that the film has been on a long festival circuit, including Sundance and SXSW, it’s only finding more fans of Kath’s currently at over 100k page views and counting. For its maker, however, she only hopes viewers take away the “sense of delight!” it so clearly conveys.
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