ScreenTest: "Here Kitty, Kitty" Director Discusses Shooting Cats
Post by Katjusa Cisar on 2/28/2008 11:05am
Around this time three years ago, citizens across the state voted on "Question 62' Ã¢â‚¬â€œ an advisory bill that would have removed protection status from free-roaming feral cats, putting them in the same category as skunks and opossums. WisconsinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mushrooming feral cat population needed controlling, and the bill would have made it legal for anyone with a hunting license to shoot roaming, uncollared cats as he or she saw fit. "Question 62" passed, but was later shot down (ha) before the proposal made it to the Department of Natural Resources.
But by then it was too late: the national media was batting the story around like a defenseless mouse, and, in the process, Wisconsin had already become the "laughingstock" of the country, as Governor Jim Doyle put it.
It's a piece of recent history that many Wisconsinites would probably rather forget -- except for Andy Beversdorf, director of the documentary "Here, Kitty Kitty," which premieres tonight at the Majestic Theatre.
Beversdorf was captivated by the drama of the feral cat saga and decided to document it with Brian Standing of Prolefeed Studios as producer. He sat down with Dane101 recently to talk about media, cats and getting to know the people who kill them.
How did you get into making films?
It all really started right at (community radio station) WORT. I had been volunteering as a reporter and I met Brian Standing who was the host of "In Our Back Yard" on Thursday nights roughly five years ago. He was into filmmaking, so one day I asked him if I could help out. He said Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yeah, sure!Ã¢â‚¬Â For the movie "War is Sell," I eventually became the associate producer Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I booked a lot of interviews, carried equipment, helped with editing. He was gracious enough to let me take the reigns of his production company and direct his next movie and I decided on "Here, Kitty Kitty." I thought it would make a dramatic film.
How did you want to portray the story differently from the media that were telling it at the time?
Generally speaking, if you pay attention to mainstream media outlets and you get your news from them, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to avoid putting people into conceptual boxes, just labeling them and not thinking much deeper about them. I think that media frenzy made Wisconsinites Ã¢â‚¬â€œ or the ones that were pro-Question 62 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ look like these gun-toting rednecks who were just out in the woods shootinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ up the place. Not too many people saw much deeper than that, if you saw CNN coverage or a lot of the other national coverage. It was sensationalized. And people who were pro-Question 62 and saw the coverage, they saw a bunch of crazy wacko hippie animal rights activists who were just trying to keep them out of the woods and were these freaky Madison people who wanted to stop them from ever hunting. Now, those two characterizations are very easy. When you want to craft a news story, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty simple to just keep people in those two places: here are the pro-hunters and the cat lovers, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re fighting in Wisconsin. They donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wind up knowing too much about the people that are supposedly at odds with each other. They just see the sensationalized version that the media wants them to see. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve worked in media. I know that you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do a story sometimes thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more than five minutes long about a very big topic. We tried to dig a little deeper, find out what makes these people tick in more ways than just their stances on cats.
In what ways were the "pro-cat" people and "anti-cat" people similar, besides being passionate about what they believed in?
Most of the people we interviewed were cat lovers, even the guy who drowned cats. Well, I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t call him a cat lover, but he had cats and he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hate cats. His epithet was the "Merrill Cat Killer." Well, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s go meet this guy. This is a man named Gordon King who lives in northern Wisconsin, is pushing 80 years old, is a devout disciple of Aldo Leopold and who believes that by his actions heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doing a service to the local ecosystem. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know that we interview a single person in the movie whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not interested in controlling the cat population, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not advocating for the environment. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going about these things in vastly different methods, but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re on the same page in a lot of ways.
So, after listening to the people on all sides of the debate, what do you believe?
Honestly, I am not and have never been terribly concerned about Question 62. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a strong opinion either way. I decided to make this movie because of the way people were interacting around this issue. What the proper decision for how to deal with the cat overpopulation is, I have absolutely no idea and havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t given it much thought. It just doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter to me. Some people have their priorities and they pick their cause. That was never one of mine.
Did you have a cause that you were pursuing in this story?
I guess my cause was to get people to meet these two groups in a way that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just sound bites or five minute stories on CNN. I grew up in a small town, Friendship, Wisconsin. Population 750, roughly. I lived there for 20 years and then I moved to Madison and have been here almost the entire second half of my life. The cultures in those two places are very different. Friendship is a very rural area. Madison is this progressive city. And those two cultures are very different yet both very dear to me. So, when the feral cat issue came up, there was a lot of tension between those two cultures. You could see it play out right there at the Conservation Congress: Ã¢â‚¬Å“You people from the city should maybe come out in the woods a little bit more and see whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going on out here.Ã¢â‚¬Â And there was also this stereotype of the rural community as these gun-toting rednecks. They had to come together and interact.
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s next for you?
Brian StandingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s idea is do a story on Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe brain of the chickadee.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Stay tuned.
"Here, Kitty Kitty" plays tonight at the Majestic Theatre (115 King Street) at 7:30 p.m. Dumate and Har Mar Superstar provide musical entertainment the rest of the evening. $5.