Alumna Kelly Murtagh’s new film to world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival

The broadcast journalism major wrote, executive produced and stars in a feature-length film, titled “Shapeless,” that touches on her personal struggles with an eating disorder.

Kelly Murtagh ’09 takes the stage while on set of her new feature-length film, “Shapeless,” which will world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Also pictured are Bobby Gilchrist (executive producer/actor) and Erika Ashley (actress). Photo credit: Nick Shamblott

There is a simple reason Kelly Murtagh ’09 penned the script for “Shapeless,” a new feature-length film that draws from her own personal battle with an eating disorder.

“I wrote the movie I needed,” she said.

Murtagh wrote, executive produced and stars in “Shapeless,” which draws from her personal experiences battling the emotional and physical toll of an eating disorder. Photo credit: Nick Shamblott

“Art has the capacity to process and explore the depths of the human experience and has always been a way for me to interpret and understand the world around me,” the Elon graduate explained. “But I couldn’t find any films that spoke to the true experience of living with an eating disorder.”

According to Murtagh, writing the film provided her with an opportunity to understand what she endured in an “authentic way.” And she takes solace in the thought that “Shapeless” might empower others struggling with eating disorders to feel seen and understood, while providing clarity and context to those who don’t have a disorder.

“Shapeless” is set to world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, one of 66 films selected to be screened from nearly 3,000 festival submissions. In total, 54 films will world premiere at the New York City event that runs from June 9-20. Virtual tickets are on sale now to view the film on June 13 – see the link above.

The film’s selection has felt surreal to Murtagh, recalling how the script’s initial plot came to her more than a decade ago.

“I’m so thankful, so grateful to every single person who has lent their heart and talent along the way and believed in my idea I had 11 years ago when I was in treatment for bulimia. And I am so proud of us,” she said. “Independent filmmaking takes so much passion, trust, faith, hard  work, collaboration, patience … you name it. Somehow, one breath at a time, here we are. I’m not sure what lies ahead for ‘Shapeless’ after our world premiere at Tribeca, but my hope is that audiences resonate and are stirred by ‘Shapeless’ and talk about it and tell their friends to see it. It’s a film that has grown into something way bigger than me and I hope it helps at least one person feel less alone.”

Murtagh on set with “Shapeless” director Samantha Aldana. Photo credit: Nick Shamblott

Directed by Samantha Aldana, the film pulls much of its backstory from Murtagh’s own personal experiences battling the emotional and physical toll of an eating disorder. The story follows Ivy, a New Orleans lounge singer trying to make a name for herself. But when off stage, she suffers from a debilitating eating disorder. And the more Ivy hides her struggles, the stronger her inner demons become.

In her first feature film as director, Aldana set off to examine the complexities of eating disorders and illnesses. Inspired by Murtagh’s courage, and a year researching the topic, Aldana said she saw an opportunity to approach the subject with a fresh perspective.

“I wanted to tell a haunted story about a woman fighting her eating disorder, and I wanted to focus on a portion of her life when she is losing that battle,” she said. “I wanted to explore the mind of a character that was filled with horror and fantasy by making a horrific fantasy film.”

The film is deeply personal for Murtagh, and she hopes audience members are not only entertained, but also educated.

Murtagh shares a moment with her daughter, Fallon, while on the set of “Shapeless.” Photo credit: Nick Shamblott

“Eating disorders have the second-highest fatality rate of any psychiatric disorder behind opioid addiction – and it almost claimed me,” Murtagh said. “This mental illness occurs in people of all ages, genders, socioeconomic groups and cultural backgrounds. I believe in normalizing the conversation surrounding mental health and in particular eating disorders to help lessen the shame that keeps us suffering in silence. I hope ‘Shapeless’ is a gateway for that conversation.”

A native of Baton Rouge, Murtagh was a Communications Fellow at Elon and studied broadcast journalism. In addition to an internship with Lifetime Television in New York City, she studied abroad in Italy and participated in the inaugural cohort of the Elon in LA program.

In the years since, she has become an award-winning actress, writer, producer, singer and children’s book author. Murtagh has received multiple awards including the Best Actress Award at Festival South, and the Best Actress Award at the 48 Independent Short Film Festival. She will have a starring role in the upcoming “Welcome to the Blumhouse” feature film under the working title “Bingo.” A release date has not been announced, but it is expected to come out later this year.

“A big reason I am here today is because of Elon, the Elon in LA program, and guidance and mentorship I received from alums and professors along the way,” Murtagh said.