Director: June Te Spenke | Cast: Kelly van der Veer (herself), Amber van der Veer (herself), Liesbeth van der Veer (herself), Edson de Randamie (herself), Nikkie de Jager (herself) and others | Time to play: 92 minutes | Year: 2023
Kelly van der Veer became known in 2001 through Big Brother and because she was the first Dutch transgender person to appear on television in a way that made other trans people feel seen. In Kelly It clearly shows how Kelly encountered a lot of misunderstanding and transphobia at the time, but also how her family has always supported her. Also, there is an eye for her sex work and some other people in the LGBTQ+ community have her opinion, like Nikkie de Jager.
The beginning of the documentary is a bit awkward with fragments that partly come back later. In one of the sound bites, De Jager says that trans people are often sexualized and that this is presented as the only way trans people make a living. Since the information immediately follows that Kelly earns money from her as a sex worker, it almost seems like a criticism of her work. Although it later turns out that the documentary gives Kelly the space to talk about her sex work without judging her.
It also quickly becomes clear that Kelly thinks a lot about director June te Spenke. When asked by Te Spenke about her past, Kelly replies: ‘Your first memory. Will you continue with those questions or will you also ask normal questions? WTF.’ Te Spenke replies, “I just want to go back to your youth a bit.” To which Kelly replies again: “Oh, psychologist, you’re going to play, let’s go.” That insight into the creative process and the influence Kelly seems to have on the design of the narrative is important, because that has often been taken away from her in the past.
Since Kelly and her family are trans and take her transition for granted, it’s hard to see the bias and snide comments she received after she rose to fame. Kelly and her family talk a lot, so the documentary consists largely of talking heads with sometimes archival footage. And there are some slightly more artistic shots that would be a better fit for a different kind of documentary. For example, sister Amber, who suddenly walks through a forest or the imagination of young Kelly, who is bathed in a dramatic blue light.
Kelly it doesn’t do much as a documentary and the few attempts to do so immediately fall out of step. But in this case the content is strong and interesting enough to forget about the form for a while. Kelly tells a heartfelt story and not only portrays Kelly’s struggles, but also the positive aspects of being trans. The good attitude of the family brings a lot of warmth to the film. While Kelly has been an inspiration to other trans women throughout her life, it’s nice to imagine that this documentary can serve the same function.
Kelly can be seen in first video.