60 Seconds With... Dr Kirsty Sinclair Dootson

12 April 2024

Dr Kirsty Sinclair Dootson (Lecturer in Film and Media) reflects on her research following her being awarded the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies Best First Monograph Award for her book The Rainbow's Gravity


Tell us a little about your research…

I’m interested in the politics of making images in colour. My work asks: what are colours made from? How are they made, by who? How do those factors shape colour’s look and its meanings? I’ve written about Hollywood cosmetics, Victorian pigment grinding, and dyeing Technicolor film strips in socialist China. My book The Rainbow’s Gravity asked how new colour media technologies transformed the way Britain saw itself and its empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and I’m currently collaborating on a project called Bombay Film Colour, exploring the power of Hindi colour cinema in the 1950s following Indian Independence.

Why is your research important?

Whenever I tell people I work on colour their instant response is “oh fun!” Colour is powerful precisely because it masquerades as something trivial, frivolous, and “fun”. Yet when we learn more about how colour is made and where it comes from, we see it is deeply connected to colonialism, enslavement, chemical warfare and environmental damage.  Watching a Technicolor musical, you think the colours are fun, but they’re made from coal, and are suspended in gelatin made from slaughtered cows!

What inspires you in your work?

Students asking difficult questions! I’ve taught a seminar called Global Film Colour for several years and am lucky that brilliant students (shout out: Lucy Szemetová, Rachel Ng and Molly Ryan) questioned the narratives I taught. They made me rethink assumptions about colour and the cold war, the environment and geopolitics.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Responding to a question I posed about the Hollywood melodrama Stella Dallas, the eminent film scholar V.F. Perkins told me he thought the film is perhaps more sophisticated than I am.  He wasn’t wrong. Otherwise, I was also proper chuffed to win the BAFTSS Best First Monograph Award this year! 

What passions/hobbies do you have outside of work?

I play roller derby: a full contact sport played on roller skates. I skate with London Brawling, currently the top-ranked team in Europe!

What book is currently on your bedside table?

I’m re-reading Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest as I’m currently writing on the politics of colour in Jonathon Glazer’s film adaptation.