Remember Creature Comforts? If you don’t, tune into BBC tonight (6 October) and you’ll likely see the influence of its furry legacy revised for a whole new film and subject. The project in question is Diomysus, a short documentary – its running time clocks in at about five minutes – from puppeteer and filmmaker Emily Morus-Jones. It’s about polyamory (the consensual practice of engaging in romantic relationships with multiple partners) which, while on the rise, is still plagued by misinformation, with many polyamorous people experiencing scrutiny across society even today. As a result, Emily turned to the combination of soundbites and puppeteering so famously utilised in Creature Comforts, this time reaping a particular reward from the approach – anonymity.
“I think the key aspect to using puppets to represent people is about safeguarding the contributors,” Emily tells us. Diomysus certainly discusses sensitive themes. The film presents interviews with a range of people who are polyamorous, discussing their relationships and the backlash they’ve run into when sharing their polyamory with their circles. “Polyamory, although certainly slowly making its way into mainstream culture, is for many people quite a challenging concept to get their heads around, and we live in a very aesthetically driven society,” Emily explains. Puppetry gives space to Diomysus’ contributors to speak freely but also to the audience to absorb challenging concepts in a welcoming format and look beyond the people presenting the ideas.
As Emily points out, “media coverage available about polyamory (particularly in films/documentaries) is either non-existent (think of any rom-com ever) or typically lewd, sensationalist or simply made from the perspective of someone who is outside the community.” So how does Diomysus present the narrative? The answer is simple: with mice. The documentary uses a selection of mouse puppets to represent contributors.
“I wanted to find a creature that was sex-positive,” Emily explains. After deciding against other more obvious choices – dolphins, the bonobo – the director finally arrived at mice. “I read somewhere that house mice very often raise their pups as a group,” the director reveals. To Emily, this seemed to speak to what polyamory is all about; working together with your partners to “survive the, often turbulent, world which we live in”.
Mice also meant Emily was free to employ a set design akin to The Borrowers, which includes playful set details like a calendar (nodding to the increased organisation that can come with polyamory). Sets, according to Emily, were “crucial in making the characters seem more appealing and mak[ing] the whole film feel more heartfelt, which was absolutely my main goal with it.” Elsewhere, Diomysus merges numerous references. Beyond the obvious nod to Creature Comforts, Emily cites Jim Henson’s work as an influence, particularly his work on Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.
Diomysus is ultimately an experiment in unconscious bias. It aims to both shift the narrative around polyamory and see if puppetry can help provide some space for empathy and nuanced thought around the subject. As Emily says: “One of the most joyful things about puppets is that they can get away with a lot of things that people can’t and the audience accepts it – you’ve only got to take one look at Spitting Image or The Muppet Show to know that!”
“I think society at large can learn a lot from the polyamorous community if it takes the time to really understand the depth of the ideas that they are trying to get across,” the director concludes.
GalleryEmily Morus-Jones / BBC Ffolio: Diomysus (Copyright © MMXXII, 2022)
Emily Morus-Jones / BBC Ffolio: Diomysus (Copyright © MMXXII, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.