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Mye Hoang – Year of the Cat Daddies

Mye Hoang – Photo by Kacy Meinecke

Mye Hoang

Year of the Cat Daddies

By Jay S. Jacobs

We all know the old saying that dogs are a man’s best friend. But what about cats?

After all, cats are the most second most popular pets in the United States. And cat videos have become ubiquitous on the internet. Some men must have them, right? Somehow, however, they seem to have become identified with women, even giving birth to the stereotype of crazy cat ladies.

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Mye Hoang became fascinated in cats and the men who love them. This interest led her to embark on her first documentary film (she was previously best known for narrative films), Cat Daddies, which will be opening in New York this weekend, Los Angeles next weekend and then spreading cross country, like… well a colony of cats.

Hoang crossed the country in 2020 speaking with a host of cat daddies and filming the dads and their interactions with their beloved animals over the course of the year. It turned out to be a crazy and treacherous year, with health issues, wildfires, flooding, and of course the COVID pandemic causing dramatic changes in their lives and the film.

These cat dads included firemen, policemen, actors, stunt men, long-distance truckers, internet influencers, software engineers, non-profit workers and a homeless man in New York. They are all very different, but they have one thing in common – the love of their cats.

A few days before the New York premiere of Cat Daddies, we caught up with director Mye Hoang to talk about her movie and the love of cats.

CAT DADDIES_ Stunt performers Ryan Robertson and Megan Dovell love their 25 lb cat Toodles when they are not working on movie sets in Atlanta, GA. Image by Robert Bennett.

I really enjoyed the movie.

Oh, great. I heard you have some kitties.

I do have a cat. I’ve had them all my life. I thought she might come and visit us during the interview. She occasionally does that but she’s asleep now. She’s a calico. Here she is. (Shows picture.)

I have a calico as well. Oh, that’s a gorgeous one.

Thank you.

Yeah. Does she walk on your keyboard a lot like mine does? (laughs)

Always. I’m doing something other than paying attention to her. That’s not the way that it’s supposed to be.

Exactly. (laughs)

So what was it that inspired you to make Cat Daddies?

Probably the starting point was my husband. When we were dating, he was not a cat guy at all. I had always had cats all my life. One day a cat found him and just kept coming back for food. It didn’t take very long. Like it only took a week and then he was hooked. He just loved this kitty. This kitty was just unlike any other cat he’d ever had any dealings with. Now he’s probably obsessed with them as much as I am.

That’s great. How many cats do you have now?

Up until a few months ago, I had four. Then I just got some foster fails. Yeah. (laughs)

My sister’s husband works for the FBI, and in this vacant lot next to their building there are a lot of stray cats. They’ve been like getting a lot spayed and neutered and trying to find them good homes, and three of them have ended up living with them.

Yeah. I did pretty good. I started out with six and I found homes for four. So, I didn’t do too bad. But it was a bad summer. There’s just so many kittens. It was just one of the worst kitten seasons we’d had in LA. I thought that I was taking them for just a week. (laughs) That was it. That didn’t happen.

CAT DADDIES_ Bay area software engineer Jeff Judkins hikes with his cat Zulu at Cataract Falls in Northern California. Image by Mye Hoang

You mentioned in the press kit that after your husband found the cat that he changed – not just as a cat lover, but it seemed to change his whole personality. How do you feel that that happened? And what changed about him?

He has a much fuller appreciation and compassion for animals in general, not just for cats. It’s really changed everything. He always liked dogs before, but I think everything changed. He didn’t know you could have a relationship with a cat. But he has a very, very strong one. Some of the cats we have are very, very attached to him specifically. They’re very loyal to him. I think that it’s made us closer, and we also were a couple with no children. I definitely see a tenderness I had never seen before in him.

How did you find the people that you chose as subjects for the for the film?

Most of them I was already following on Instagram. I was just a fan. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to see them on the big screen and immortalize those kitties, because I’m a cinephile. I mean, I like cat videos as much as anyone else, but I like to see my content in the theater. So, I wanted to make this to bring cat lovers together. I saw Kedi – the Turkish documentary [about street cats in Istanbul] – when it was out in theaters. I saw it multiple times in the theater. It was just a magical experience to be around other people just fawning over the cats. I really wanted to bring that experience back again. I almost thought that we wouldn’t have that chance because the pandemic happened right in the middle of our filming – actually, towards the end of our filming, we were almost done. I didn’t know if I would ever get to see it in person and in film festivals. Luckily, I’ve been able to go to film festivals for the past year with it and just see the reaction. It’s always been really strong. There’s just something special when you gather cat lovers together. Then it’s even better when you have the subjects there for Q&A.

CAT DADDIES_ Princess the cat balances on the shoulder of actor Nathan Kehn aka Nathan the Catlady who has a large following on social media. Image by Mye Hoang

You mentioned cat videos. They’re all over the internet. Why do you think that people find cats so entertaining and intriguing?

Cats are so ridiculous and funny. They are so flexible. They’re always getting into things that they shouldn’t. I think a lot of people who like those videos actually don’t have a cat. They’re surprised when they see the things that they see. You wouldn’t normally see it unless you did live with a cat or have a relationship with cat. You don’t see the silly things that they hide in, or get into, or get obsessed with, or the way that they can always land on their feet. I just think they’re really amazing creatures, endlessly fascinating. I have had them all my life, and they continue to fascinate me. And each one is very different. That’s one misconception about the cats – that they are all the same, all aloof. They have very individual personalities. I can definitely tell you that from having six of them. (laughs)

I was surprised, at least a few of your subjects were influencers who put their cats online, although you just sort of explained that. Did you pick them specifically because of that fact, feeling that they’d be more comfortable on camera than the average person? Or was it just the way that it came about?

A little bit of everything. The great thing about finding the subjects through Instagram is you already know that they’re open to sharing their life. You can kind of pre-audition them without them knowing. See what they’re like and how they’d be like on camera. The main influencer, Nathan the Cat Lady, I just think that he’s a great spokesperson for cats. He was great to start off the movie with. It certainly helps that he has a large following. So, if I were to reverse engineer this project, then I know that he could help us find our target audience. Then Goalkitty, I just really selfishly wanted to capture Goalkitty. We shot in 4K, and it would be really cool to see Goalkitty do you her pose in slow motion, on the big screen and everything.

CAT DADDIES_ Schoolteacher Peter Mares holds his cat Keys who has become known as GoalKitty on social media. Image by Robert Bennett

Sure.

But I want a little bit everything. I didn’t want everybody to be famous. I wanted to sprinkle a little bit of everything and just have a variety, because it’s really hard to make a documentary with so many subjects. I thought it would help the audience keep track of who everybody was because you don’t want all the guys to look alike. They can’t all be hot guys. (laughs) Sorry, ladies, but that wasn’t the project I was trying to make. And the cats can’t all look the same. I really had to dig around to get a variety. I never had like a casting call or anything like that. It was just me digging around on the internet and finding out where everybody was, so I could spread out a little bit, not have everybody in LA or New York.

That makes sense.

David in New York, the homeless man, was a tip from a lady that was trying to help them for a couple of years. When she had heard about my project, she approached me about him and introduced me. At the time I was completely full up on casting. I wasn’t looking to add anyone. I’d already started shooting. I didn’t know how this was going to work. Then I once I met him, it was just an instant kinship. He just lights us all up. He’s just so inspiring, his story, and we just knew we had to do it and try to help him somehow. Then it turned out he had a bigger role. Part of that is because during the pandemic, some of our cat dads either had to drop out or we couldn’t travel to them. So, things changed quite a bit in 2020 for the project.

CAT DADDIES_ David Giovanni lives with his cat Lucky on the streets of New York City. Image by Eric Yang

David and Lucky certainly had the most dramatic role, because of all the things that were happening. His homelessness, his medical problems and everything. What was it like to go back into his life at different points and see all the changes that were happening for better and worse in his life?

It was honestly really excruciating for me because I have grown so close to him. He was like family to me. We were so worried we would lose him that year. That was a tricky year. Then how do we keep filming with him during that year? We don’t really know quite everything that’s going on. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We want to keep him safe. He’s very immunocompromised. So this threw in a lot of problems. I ended up having to direct half of the movie remotely. I was just on the phone through a lot of [footage] that was filmed in the middle of 2020 in New York. Luckily, he made it through that year, and he’s still with us today. He’s going to come to our opening in New York this Friday. He still has cancer, and he’s still get trying to get through. But he tells me all the time that he’s really, really lucky and blessed because he still has his cat. He still has that unconditional love. I just think it’s such a powerful, amazing thing. He’s really inspiring to us.

As you just mentioned, the much of the film was made during the pandemic. As a filmmaker, did that just make things more difficult for you? Obviously, you said some of it you had to do remotely, you couldn’t visit everyone. What was it like, as a filmmaker making a film during that whole terrible time?

It was so tough. Not only do you wonder if you can even finish your project but in the case of my project that the vision I had had to completely change. I had to go a different direction and try to balance the movie tonally. It’s light, it’s funny, but then it also has moments of reflection. It can be a little somber sometimes, so I had to work harder to make that work for the audience. Then I didn’t even know if it was going to work until I could screen it with an audience. So I spent all that time – nearly two years – wondering, what is the audience going to think of this? You can’t know until you’re in a room with an audience, which was just off limits at that time. I really didn’t know until it premiered for the first time at a film festival with other people. It was really nerve wracking.

I can imagine…

At the same time, like a lot of artists, I was wondering, “What am I doing? Is this really valuable? I’m making a movie about cats. Do we really need that in this world? I should be doing something else with my life.” I think a lot of artists went through that. Luckily, I came out of it. It is interesting, because during that time, I don’t think I could have gotten through that time without having cats. Being home all the time, and also, for me not having children, they were really everything for me. I think that the movie really brings that home.

CAT DADDIES_ Fire engineer Jordan Lide holds Flame who is taken care of by the Belmont Fire Department in Greenville, SC. Image by Robert Bennett

The basic concept of the movie is that it’s more unusual for men to have cats than women. Why do you think that is that people tend to think of men as not being cat lovers as much? Or maybe that men don’t have necessarily the access to them – like your husband didn’t until he really got to know one?

I think it’s just the whole saying “man’s best friend.” Also, cats are so notoriously difficult to film, so they aren’t really shown accurately in movies and the entertainment that we consume. So, I just don’t think that people know what they’re like. They don’t know what benefits they could have for a man. I think what the movie drives home is that they have a lot of benefit, maybe now more than ever. Because of all these things that are happening in our world, having any pet – but I think especially a cat – is just really good for your health mentally. Probably physically. It definitely is for the firefighters in the movie and any anyone who’s a frontline worker. It’s the content that’s being put out there. People think that cats are a certain way, but life with a cat is a very private one. I was hoping to capture that with the film and capture that these cats also have their own personalities. They have their little souls and I hope that people can see that.

You mentioned the firefighters. You had a lot of different traditionally masculine jobs in the film. You had a policeman, an actor, a stunt man, truck drivers. Were you looking to do that to help to make your point? Or did that just happen naturally?

I was kind of looking, although the cop was not like a casting choice. It just so happened that I was actually trying to interview someone else but that didn’t want to be in it. She suggested, “David has a friend and he’s a cop.” I thought that was perfect. But if he wasn’t a cop, he probably would still be in the film. So, that was a coincidence. I just wanted to show here’s this guy on the streets, he doesn’t have that many guy friends. This is probably his only guy friend. [He] happens to be a police officer. I really thought their friendship was sweet, that they found this common ground and were able to have this wonderful relationship, all thanks to their cats.

CAT DADDIES_ Truck driver David Durst walks through the snow with his travel cat Tora in Flagstaff, AZ. Image by Robert Bennett

I love the quote that you use in the beginning from Mark Twain about cats. It got me to thinking about people like Ernest Hemingway, Freddie Mercury, Picasso, Marlon Brando – they all really loved cats. What do you think it is about cats that inspire people with artistic temperaments?

I think they’re really fun for artists to have around. Especially writers, they’ve got to think all the time. They’ve got to stay inside by their typewriter, or what have you. The cats are just such a great companion. They’re there, but they’re not too distracting. They also keep you company. So, I don’t know, I think there’s something about artists and cats. There’s something I’m really attracted to about a guy holding his cat and just being that tender. I think it comes from the fact that I grew up with a very stern father. I grew up with very stern men in my life, so to see that which is so different from what I grew up with, I think it’s just what delights me.

Along those lines, a few of the guys in the film basically ended up meeting their girlfriends through their cats. You sort of answered this, but why do you think that a cat is sort of a good way to meet women?

It goes both ways. I’ve heard both stories. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes, I still hear women who aren’t attracted to cat guys. But I hope that my film is a good argument for them. The traits that you have to have to be a cat guy are great traits to have in a man as a partner,

It is also cool that a couple of the guys that you interviewed basically took their love for cats and actually turned it into a calling – where they were going out there and feeding and helping to rehome and spay stray cats. You said that you do fostering as well. How do you feel that that is a very good thing to do and helps you as a person as well as the cats?

I hope that their stories inspire a lot of people. [Lots of people] complain about things in their community, but they don’t really do anything to make a difference. We see it more now, after the pandemic that left us feeling like we’re just here to fend for ourselves. In a way we are. We all have to take part of the responsibility in solving these problems, because our government isn’t stepping up to help with these things. They have bigger things to do. I’m so inspired by these men who decided to take charge and be like, “Okay, I’m going to fix this problem in my community.” I think we need more of that. And we need more of that attitude. You know what I mean?

As a filmmaker, both as a producer and as a director, you mostly worked on narrative films previously. This I believe, is your first documentary. What was the difference going from one type of filmmaking to another? Was one harder or easier?

Well, I’ll say I’ll say I’m not going back. This was way more fun for me. I don’t even know why I never thought about it earlier. Maybe I just thought that I wasn’t qualified for some reason. This suits my personality better. I really like dealing with people in real life. To be able to work with subjects who are down to Earth people, regular people, I enjoy that a lot more. So, I’m hoping to see what happens working in the documentary scene.

Do you have any ideas about next projects?

I’m not starting anything yet. I’m still really busy with this movie for a while. I am actually really interested in the [Ernest] Hemingway cats. I’ve never been to his house [which has been turned into a museum which houses many cats]. That’s definitely on my bucket list. It might be fun to look into. I’d definitely like to do something else on cats.

Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2022.

Photos ©2022 by Kacy Meinecke, Eric Yang, Robert Bennett and Mye Hoang. Courtesy of Motion Picture Exchange. All rights reserved.

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