Posted by: Jie Yi See | February 26, 2010

Conversation with director of ‘Kati with an I’

By Jie Yi See

Robert Greene is the director and producer of “Kati With An I,” which will sneak preview during the True/False Film Festival. Greene previously produced and edited the award-winning documentary film “An Omar Broadway Film” (2008), which was accepted into the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival’s World Documentary Competition category.

This is the first time Greene is attending the True/False Film Festival, and Missourian staff caught up with him at Ragtag Cinema.

About the title
“Kati with an I” is how she would introduce it herself. If someone asks her what her name is, she will say “Kati with an I,” so that’s where we got the name basically. But for some people, “with an I” may tell you where she’s from. I don’t know how true that is, but it seems like that’s a Southern thing or maybe a more working class thing.

Who is Kati?
Kati is now 19 but was 18 when we were filming. We basically filmed her last few days of high school, going up to three days later when she was graduating.

In the movie, she’s got a boyfriend named James. Obviously, this has all changed, but back then, she’s not sure if she’s going to or wants to stay with him. She’s convinced that he’s the love of her life, but she’s left in Alabama to finish high school when her parents moved away. She wants James to come with her back to North Carolina, but James doesn’t know if he wants to come with her. So she was in this weird and precarious situation.

The movie is about seeing her with this relationship in the last couple of days in high school. The thing is that she’s really immature. She’s not really quite ready to be pulled into the real world, but things happen, so that kind of forced her to be pulled into the real world. We’re watching her as she has her last few moments of youth.

Poster for Kati with an i. Credits to 4th Row Films

What’s the fascination with the life of a high school girl?
Kati’s my half-sister. The unique thing about this film is that we weren’t ever sure if we were making a film. This is an observational-style documentary. It’s more of filming and watching the story unfolding by itself.

To me, this is more of the kind of film that I want to make. A lot of times you don’t know what’s going to happen or if it’s going to result in what’s worthy of a film or to be shown to people. In this case, we filmed some stuff and it turned out to be a story that was worthy of the theater, so we went for it.

How does it feel to film your half-sister?
It’s really weird. The film has tons of footage of her when she was a kid. I filmed her whole life, mostly bits and pieces because I didn’t live with her. It was weird for me, but in the end she loved the film. I have a very crazy family, and I often thought that it would be easy to film them and turn them into stories, but I’ve never wanted to do it. We happened to want to do this, and she happened to want us to film.

In the end, what we got was very honest. Every time she watches it, she cries. I did it only because I thought it’s a meaningful and useful film that moves people and relates to them. It clarifies some things about the world, so I thought it was worth doing. But I don’t know if I would choose to do anything like this again.

Why would audiences be interested?
Films are often made about quirky characters, like people with strange stories or people who did something special. Kati’s not more special than anybody else. What happens in the movie is that you see normal people behaving like normal people, and I think that’s very revealing. In fact, it may be even more revealing than extraordinary people behaving extraordinarily.

The whole movie is about observing human behavior. The greatest films of all time have just been observational films observing people behaving and living life. There’s a lot of humor in the movie, and the way that it was shot was very dreamy. I think it transports people to the last couple days of high school to the point where they’re being pulled in different directions. Most people would be able to relate to that.

How’s Kati right now?
I don’t want to give away what happened in the film. She’s good but poor. Poverty’s always tough, but she was poor before we filmed her, so that doesn’t change anything. There are events that happened in the movie that changed her life, so she’s now coping with those events.

Director Robert GreeneOn CoMo and T/F
We’re only on the first day, and the energy level is so high; it’s crazy and really exciting. It’s great to be part of the excitement.

The movies are all, in some ways, serious because it’s about the real world and it feels like you’re experiencing little slices of life. But when you get to the end of it, you get to drink beer and party. When you combine the celebrations, the party, the music and the movies, it makes the movie experience more enjoyable.

I think that True/False is close to a utopia for a filmmaker. You get to come to show your films, be part of your film, talk about it, drink and not have to pay for your food. That’s pretty remarkable.

Sometimes, you work on these movies and wonder do they matter; like, who cares about it? You work really hard, hoping that there’s an audience for them; otherwise you wouldn’t be making them. When you come to a place like this and you find out that your screenings are sold out, you’re like, “Wow, people do want to come and watch my movie.”

You don’t have to be worried about people trying to sell your movie because it’s not a market-based festival. It’s about enjoying, sharing and talking about movies. It’s going to be tough because you don’t know if the audiences will be liking your movie, but you know they’re going to give it a shot, which is cool.

Columbia is a cool town because this can’t happen everywhere for certain. Sometimes I wonder if the people here realize what they have. True/False is a real amazing, amazing thing. Obviously I do realize it because my screenings were all sold out.

Are you nervous about Kati’s screenings?
There’s going to be a full theater of people, though it’s a small theater, watching your movie and asking you questions afterwards. That’s super awesome and exciting. There’s nothing to be nervous about. People can hate the movie, but they can talk to me about it. I don’t think people will hate it, but I don’t know how people will respond to it.

You want to connect with your audiences in the way you hope to be. For a film like this there is not much bells and whistles to distract you. If the story, the cinematography and the editing isn’t working, there is nothing much there for the audience. But I have confidence it will, and I’m sure there will be many interesting questions asked.

More True/False information:
Catch Robert Greene at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Forrest Theater at a True/False workshop about building relationships with the subject of a film.

“Kati with an I” will be shown at 1 p.m. Sunday at Big Ragtag.

For more about the movie, follow it on Facebook or Twitter.

To watch the trailer, go to Vimeo.

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