Once upon a time, there was a boy named Hansel and his sister Gretel… and a young girl called Holly who thought the story’s ending was far from happy ever after.
Holly is 13-year-old Holly Jacobson, who despite her young age has already made quite a name for herself in the world of independent film-making, winning prizes for her perceptive and sometimes moving insights into the competitive and often cruel world of children.
Her latest project, under the banner of Fancy Pants Films, is a re-imagining of the Grimms’ tale of the brother and sister abandoned in the woods by their father on his wife’s orders, to be captured by a witch who eats children. In the original, Gretel pushes the witch into her own oven and the children return to their father, whose wife has since died.
“At the end of the story the stepmother’s gone and they’re back with the father who left them to die, so is that a happy ending?” says Holly. “I must have been six when I said ‘this is wrong’ and when I got into film making I thought I’d put it right.”
Holly has spent four years writing and rewriting her script, updating the old story for modern times. The Harry and Grace of the title wander off when their dad fails to collect them from school, and Holly’s version includes serious themes of feminism, family breakdown, neglect and grooming. “I hope this fairytale film now has a lot to say for itself,” she says.
Holly’s family live at Ashton-under-Lyne, and Holly searched far and wide before finding her ideal location for the ‘witch’ cottage in woodland on a farm at Greenmount, near Bury.
She used her own savings and launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, a support backing network, to help pay for the set, an amazing cottage constructed from parts of wooden buildings and donated materials.
“The campaign helped a lot, but to build something of this scale there have been so many people helping me and volunteering. Lots of people donated materials, and Jewson’s in Bury gave me lots of free materials which was a massive help. I’ve had a lot of support from people.”
Home-educated Holly has worked regularly with adults as a child actor for TV and film, and she is remarkably mature for her age. However, she also has friends her own age, she’s a young leader for Beavers and teaches chess at a children’s chess club, and she’s interested in typical teenage stuff such as music, fashion and makeup.
Holly has been making films since she was nine. Her first Katie and the Cup Cake Cure was for a local competition, and Moving On, a tale of a girl growing older and leaving behind her toys – and her best friend – won ‘One to Watch’ at the National Youth Film Festival and was screened at Leicester Square Odeon. Her next, The Loneliness of the Short Distance Runner, about a devious girl cheating to win a race, was successful at film festivals and won awards.
Harry and Grace, a 15-minute short film, is Holly’s biggest project to date, and her search for the co-stars brought 600 responses before she chose eight-year-old Sienna Barlow and 10-year-old Harrison Naz.
Filming is almost complete, and Holly hopes to have the film finished by Christmas before taking it to film festivals for public showings.
As for the future, Holly sees it in film-making, although she will probably carry on acting, and aims to go into higher education.
“I’m home educated and I’ve never been to school, which is wonderful and gives me time in my life to follow my dreams and do wonderful things like this. I can make my own schedule instead of having to stick to a school curriculum. I’m only 13 and I’ve got plenty of time to decide about university and my future.”
Since this interview, Holly and her team suffered a setback when fire broke out at the cottage set. Production designer Martin Butterworth fought the blaze until firefighters arrived and filming was suspended, but Holly has appealed for renewed cash support and was soon overwhelmed by donations from more than 100 people to put her back on track.