Stephanie Burbano, Annie, Kaye Adelaide, Mariel Sharp and Naomi Silver Vezina behind the scenes on Monster Dyke Photo: True Sweetheart Films
The best short films pack a lot of story, theme and character into a small package. Mariel Sharp and Kaye Adelaide made quite a splash at Fantasia 2020 with Don’t Text Back, the story of a young woman trying to get out of a tricky entanglement with man who won’t leave her alone after a one night stand. Now they’re back, at Fantasia 2021, with Monster Dyke, another short which opens with a woman being annoyed by a sexually frustrated man who keeps bugging her over the phone. How did that happen?
“Great question,” says Mariel, as they both laugh. “Yeah, I mean, I think in the deep of the pandemic, we really wanted to make another project, so we just started brainstorming, thinking about what kind of story we might want to tell and what we could do with limited crew, with just ourselves and two other friends. We wanted to do another queer project. So we just kind of came up with this idea, about this sculptress who has this awakening, and there’s definitely a link between Don’t Text Back and this film in the sense, that you have your shitty man on the phone, trying to make your life hard. And then you decide to...”
“Yeah, again, it's further gay propaganda,” concludes Kaye.
It seemed kind of like a gay version of Pygmalion, I say, and Mariel concurs.
“It's also kind of a golem story about a creature brought to light from clay or stone,” says Kaye.
It’s interesting because they’re both obviously creative people themselves, and it seems to touch on that sometimes there are things in one’s own creation that one doesn’t recognise until later on.
“Yeah, absolutely,” says Mariel. “It was a very organic process making the sculpture. We call her Annie. Right? And yeah, I think we really wanted to go all out. Maybe Kaye can speak more to the actual design.”
“Yeah,” says Kaye. “I mean, we're going for something from underwater, sort of looking at the tentacles and the mermaid tail, but then also kind of alien looking, we're hoping, but also still human enough to have some sex appeal. She's an enormous puppet. Usually, with this kind of creature, it might be a person inside of a costume or a special effects makeup. But again, because it was in the thick of Covid, we figured if it's going to be something at close quarters, with intimate love scenes, then that between two performers is dangerous. But that between a performer and a puppet, it's a lot safer.
“So she's essentially like a big latex shell in her outer form, and then assorted types of foam inside supporting her, and some rigging for her eyes and face, and sort of old school Muppet techniques of having a person hidden in the box underneath her and reaching up above their head to move the different parts.”
She harks back to Fifties B-movie monster tradition, I suggest, but there's always been a degree of openness among genre fans of the fact that monsters like that can be sexual in certain ways, and sexually attractive. And that seems to me to relate to the experience of queer bodies and what people are actually attracted to and what they say they're attracted to.
“Yeah,” says Kaye. “Again, it's like you say, things come out in your art that you didn't initially know were in there. But at some point, we saw it as an interesting metaphor for the trans body versus the cis body. For example, we are saying that some people might find our romantic relationship as, um...”
“Yucky,” says Mariel, laughing.
“Yucky or strange or foreign,” Kaye continues. “Which is to say, to some people, a cis person dating me [a trans person] is to me dating a slimy monster, you know.”
“And it’s finding the beauty and the unique, you know, and celebrating that, and celebrating the queerness of it,” says Mariel. She looks at her partner. “I knew when you were designing hair, we just kept being like, ‘Oh, yeah, that's hot. Like, let's give her this. Let's give her that. The genitals were a really fun project. It's essentially gloves that the puppeteer is wearing. They go like this!” she declares, putting the heels of her hands together and wiggling her fingers.
How well did the sculpture stand up to all that? Did they have to reshoot lots of bits of it and keep repairing it, or was it okay?
“We shot it all in one night,” says Kaye. “We somehow imagined we would start shooting at like 5pm and wrap at 11, but we actually shot till about 6am, which no one was expecting. So we were all very tired and delirious but still having a great time. And she held up pretty well. We were using this veterinary grade lubricant as the slime, an animal birthing agent to aid in birthing cows, and that dissolved the paint and stuff on her a bit, so she started to get some weird colouring.”
“She's in the closet!” Mariel pipes up eagerly, turning her camera round so I can see. “She's a little worse than aware after, but we still kept her.” There’s a distinctly affectionate tone to her voice.
They shot the film in their old studio apartment, she explains, but they’ve now moved to a new place where they are, in fact, shooting another film at the moment.
“Literally, the reason we are on a tight schedule today is because we have a set built upstairs,” says Kaye. “We've fortified our living room and closed off half of it with a fake fly wall, and there's an electric team up there lighting. Yeah. After Don't Text Back, we said we would never shoot in our own apartment again. And here we are.”
“This is one that I'm writing and directing and Kaye is just helping with absolutely everything,” says Mariel. “And a special effects artist as well. It's a it's a short film. It's called Where The Witch Lives. And it's essentially about a young girl and she discovers that her mother has been faking a haunting in order to keep them obedient and codependent. So it's like a drama Gothic horror, and I was able to get some funding for that one. So this is kind of nice, because we're still shooting two days in our apartment, but we have more resources.”
So how do they feel about being back at Fantasia with this one?
“Really great. Really excited,” says Kaye. “We weren't sure if it would be their cup of tea because it's intense for some people.”
“We have a content warning,” says Mariel.
I assure them that it is not the most sexually intense short at Fantasia this year – not by a long way.
“Yeah, we figured it could be a good fit,” Mariel continues. “ But we do say like, you know, if that's not for you then that's okay.”
“It's tricky because I have a lot of my co-workers on my day job asking to see the most recent film,” Kaye laughs, explaining that she’s trying to persuade them to wait for the next one. “I made a censored cut for my family to see. I put in a ‘reel missing’ card in the middle. It’s a very short film in that in that format.”
So do they think that there's kind of a tradition of monster movies speaking to queer people and making it possible to talk about certain kinds of sexuality that people are not able to address openly?
“I think so,” says Kaye. “I think vampires have always been very queer. Lesbian vampire tradition is strong. I think you can definitely see a lot of classic monsters as metaphors for either the monstrous feminine or the fear of like, monstrosities or queerness. Like trans people are often portrayed as monsters and characters such as Buffalo Bill [in The Silence Of The Lambs or others like that. So I think it kind of goes both ways. That one is a metaphor for the other, like, where people are metaphors for monsters and monsters, a metaphor for queer people, often in classic cinema. It's a great experience, I think, to be able to reclaim that and to kind of twist that and be like, ‘No, we embrace queerness, we embrace uniqueness. There's nothing really scary about it. It's hot.’”
But there's a lot of love for monsters as well. So some people are going to see this just because it's a monster movie.
“Yeah,” she says. “We're getting reviews from some people who I wouldn't think are normally queer cinema scholars, but who are into it for the monsters. Come for the monsters, stay for the queer education.”