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Interview with Linda Hattendorf

Watch Clip of Linda's acceptance speech from TFF '06

TRIBECA: It seems like the filmmaking process in which Cats came about was very organic. Did you do any preparation or was it more a day-by-day situation?

HATTENDORF: The project began in January 2001 with a chance New York encounter – Jimmy gave me a drawing of a cat and asked me to take a picture of it for him. I returned with my video camera and he began to tell me the stories behind his pictures. The more I learned about Jimmy’s past, the more involved I became. When I realized Jimmy had been interned during WWII and also lost family and friends to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I was really moved. I wanted to explore the links between losing homes in such a profound way in the past and ending up homeless on the streets of New York 60 years later. Because Jimmy was living on a street corner just a block from my apartment in Soho, I was able to visit him everyday on my way to and from work, always bringing my camera. By 9/11/01, I had been visiting him for 9 months and we knew each other quite well. He was living on a corner just a mile from the collapse of the World Trade Center. When I found him there coughing in the toxic smoke, I found I was unable to just stand there passively documenting the situation. The walls between his world and mine no longer made sense. I brought him home. And so, of course at that point, the story changed – for all of us.

TRIBECA: How was the reaction to the film at the Tribeca Film Festival?

HATTENDORF: Tribeca was the perfect place for our world premiere. The audiences were as diverse as the New York City population itself. We had a good turnout of Asians and Asian Americans, including several former internees and their families; a crew of senior citizens from Jimmy’s retirement home, social workers, representatives from groups working for peace, advocates for the homeless, artists, collectors, cat lovers, and just regular folks from the Soho and Greenwich Village area who remembered Jimmy from the streets. That’s the great thing about this show – I love the way Jimmy’s character brings so many different kinds of people together and creates a bond between them. It’s really a universal story.

TRIBECA: What do you hope people will take away after viewing the film?

HATTENDORF: I want people to feel history -- to understand the lingering trauma of war and discrimination and the healing power of friendship and art. We are all one family.

TRIBECA: What has happened to you and your film since appearing at Tribeca last summer?

HATTENDORF: Tribeca was such a great way to launch this film! After winning the Audience Award there, word spread quickly and we were invited to festivals all over the world. Producer Masa Yoshikawa and I have been to Tokyo, Toronto Rotterdam, Reykjavik, Vancouver, and Tromso ("the Paris of the Arctic Circle!") Next month alone we're invited to Thessaloniki, Buenos Aires, Bermuda, and Milan! I can barely keep up. The audiences have just been so great. It’s really exciting to receive such a warm response, and so empowering to find that there's such a strong global community of people who believe in the sentiments of peace and humanity expressed in the film.
In the US, we've also toured quite a bit as well and won several awards, most recently Best Documentary at the Big Sky Documentary Festival. It's been a wonderful whirlwind. I think what I enjoy most about attending all these festivals is sharing this experience with audiences -- in every screening people laugh together, they cry together -- an emotional bond is created that continues even after the lights come up. You can feel it. That's the power of cinema to me -- to create community. That's what it's all about. So, you can imagine how excited I am about the upcoming theatrical premier at Cinema Village! Screening the show in Greenwich Village where much of the film took place will be really special.

TRIBECA: What are you working on now?

HATTENDORF: As for future projects, I have several things in development, and some interesting collaborations have come about from meeting people at other festivals. So I just need a little time off to begin writing again. CATS took 5 years to make -- one year to shoot and 4 years to raise the funds to edit and finish -- I’m hoping with all this success that I'll be able to find the resources to finish the next project in a shorter period of time!

TFF audience favorite The Cats of Mirikitani opens at the Cinema Village in New York City this Friday Mar. 2 for one week only. Director Linda Hattendorff picked-up the 2006 Audience Award for the film. On May 8, INDEPENDENT LENS will air a shortened version of the film nationwide on PBS.

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