• Cristee Cook

Dallas filmmaker Richard Bailey sees beauty in the dark side in A Ship of Human Skin

By Cristee Cook

In the newly distributed independent film A Ship of Human Skin, Writer and Director Richard Bailey aims to take you on a transportative journey. From Tropic Pictures, A Ship of Human Skin is an intimate story about a violent crime, mysticism, and friendship. The thought provoking film sets a surreal tone with poetic language and beautiful images of the macabre. Ultimately, revelations occur, but it’s a circuitous and searching process.

Like his film, Bailey’s journey to artistic expression has been circular. After studying film at UT Austin, he began his film work in 16mm, and a few of his early films made it into the festival circuit. But he described film at that time as “a jealous medium,” requiring considerable time and material commitment, and he just wasn’t able to sustain it. Through some personal reflection and a desire to tell stories no matter what, Bailey began writing poetry and short stories, many of which received publication. He said, “…[poetry] was a good way into the world creatively, which is something that I craved. I was happy with that. And then, I wanted to see poems move.”

Years later, a friend emailed him a video of waves crashing, and Bailey realized that digital recording offered an accessibility back into filming. So, with a new digital camera, he started imagining what new life his poems could take on. He told me, “I saw my friend’s footage and I thought ‘were back’ – the technology made it to where I was able to get something that I felt looked really good. It’s important to me to present beauty. Not just decorous beauty, but a transformative experience that an awesome image can give someone. So, I went back to my old journals to things that didn't get published, but I thought still had some life. From those I was creating small narratives and short films. Then we were back on the festival circuit again, and then I wanted to move more into narrative film making with an experimental aspect to it.”

A Ship of Human Skin, courtesy Gravitas Ventures | Pictured: Hannah Weir (l), Hilly Holsonback (r)

A Ship of Human Skin is now available on multiple streaming platforms, thanks to distribution partner Gravitas Ventures. Bailey shared that “a representative found it on the festival circuit and said ‘this is unlike anything that's going on right now. Let's talk about it.’ He felt like he could find a distributor, and he did indeed do that. So, it's one of those stories that you'd like to hear: a sort of quirky or out of place movie gets some champions behind it.”

The film is unique in its style. The narrative is a specific story of two women in an intense friendship, on the fringes of rural life, and seeking some sort of personal revelation. One of the friends commits a heinous murder and while in prison, she levitates. The film questions personal motivation, the mystical and paranormal, and in my viewing of it, I found that in many ways it questions the nature of truth. Through the use of poetic language and vast, empty locations, the tone is essentially fantastic.

Bailey shared his motivation for creating stories in this style: “I operate under this idea (or at least the dramatic part of me operates under this idea) that each of us is the product of a dual personality, part of which is in a submerged state. An unconscious self. And I feel like that's a lot of fertile ground for drama. So the submerged self is the private part that has the wound and the external self is reckoning with that wound. However the characters reckon with that, I felt like it needed to be poetic. So it’s not a particular story anymore, it’s a universal one. I think that poetry lends to that.”

Movie still from 'King Judith' (Emily Ernst), courtesy Tropic Pictures

One of the lingering aspects of our conversation was Bailey's clarity and openness about his creative process, where his ideas originate, and his desire to create artistic movies within our local community. And there's more to come with his new film, King Judith. Another Gothic story, the film centers on three women who are haunted by the same ghost. He shared, “…it's a female driven movie. And that’s exciting and encouraging to us. That's not something that you see very often, and it's not as though these women are sitting around talking about the men in their lives. They're talking about universal themes." Still in the early stages of production, this film (like a lot of Bailey’s work) showcases local talent. He draws inspiration from art, theatre, and film that he sees in Dallas, thereby bringing his stories not only to, but through, our local community.


A Ship of Human Skin is available in wide release through Gravitas Ventures.

Visit Vimeo for the trailer. For viewing, choose from numerous streaming platforms here:


King Judith is a female-driven Gothic drama. Three women are haunted by the same ghost, a Victorian woman named Judith. Visit Vimeo for the promo video, and follow the progress of the film on Facebook, Instagram, and Tropic Pictures.

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