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VIFF 2015 Interview: FRANK AND THE WONDERCAT director Tony Massil

by Jason Whyte

"FRANK AND THE WONDERCAT is a feature documentary about Frank Furko, an 80-year old man living in a Pittsburgh suburb, and the relationship he had in the 1990s with his 23-pound, costume-wearing performing house cat called Pudgie Wudgie. In 1989, Frank rescued Pudgie from the Animal Rescue League and trained him to wear outfits of all sorts and to perform tricks on command, touring with their show to elementary schools, hospitals, football tail gate parties and to events all around Pittsburgh. They frequently made appearances on local TV stations and soon enough made national media, appearing in the National Inquirer, Pet Fancy, the Maury Povich show and David Letterman. Throughout it all, Frank recorded all their antics with his VHS camera, and his archive video; mesmerizing footage that is strange, often hilarious and oddly beautiful makes up much of the film. It's also about Frank's relationship with his father and how family pressure pushed him towards his relationship with Pudgie and how he was able to live out his dreams through the performance he put on with his cat. It's about friendship, memories and intergenerational family dynamics." Director Tony Massil on FRANK AND THE WONDERCAT which screens at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. (September 24 to October 9th)

You were at VIFF before, correct?

I was previously at VIFF with a short documentary called FORTY MEN FOR THE YUKON in 2008; I'm now based in Vancouver and my co-director Pablo Alvarez-Mesa is based in both BC and Quebec, and we will both be attending the festival.

Great to hear you are both attending the festival. Could you tell me a bit more about yourselves and your previous work?

Pablo and I went to the Simon Fraser University (SFU) film program together in Vancouver and have been friends and filmmakers working on and off together for the last ten years. Since graduating SFU in 2008 Pablo has been making documentaries in BC and Quebec and I've been making films, editing and acting in both Vancouver and Toronto.

So how did you both hear about Frank and decide to make a docuemtary about him?

We heard about Frank and Pudgie from a librarian friend of ours who lives in the same suburb as Frank and suggested we make a documentary about him. He's a frequent library guest and local legend. She sent us a 2-hour compilation DVD of all of Frank's footage of him and Pudgie and we were so captivated by it we decided to just drive down to Pittsburgh and start filming, and see what we got when we met Frank.

Once we got there we realized that since Pudgie had passed avway in 2001, Frank had made his house into a living museum to his dead cat. Pictures, photos, newspaper articles and costumes covered every wall and surface. Frank was quite literally living in and around his past. As we went back a few more times over two years, Frank opened up and showed us more of his archive and talked to us about his father and the family farm they used to work on together. He showed us the accordion he grew up playing and his love of the local high school football team, which he has volunteered for the last 50 years.

As we filmed more and talked with Frank, we edited as we went and tried to craft, with the help of Frank's great archive VHS footage, a story and narrative about the relationship between Frank, his father and Pudgie Wudgie and how they all came to influence each other.

So what kept you going? How much coffee?

Frank lives next to a gas station/convenience store, so we kept going with bad coffee from there.

Did that bad coffee result in any more challenges with making the movie?

Figuring out how to edit the footage into an emotional narrative that gives us insight into our character over the course of a four year production was a challenge.

Any favorite moments out of all of that?

Probably when Frank showed us his museum on the first day. We knew right away that this would be something. And every time Frank showed us a different VHS tape with archive footage on it, it was always a revelation.

Did you shoot the film yourselves? What type of equipment did you work with?

We shot the film ourselves on two Panasonic DVXs, we decided to shoot on those with SD tape in 4:3 because we wanted our footage to be able to somewhat match our archive VHS footage, and being able to cut back and forth and not be distracting for the audience. We wanted to be able to have the archive footage live somewhat in the present.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing FRANK & THE WONDERCAT in Vancouver?

Screening the film in front of friends and family and introducing Vancouverites to Pudgie Wudgie.

Where is the movie going to show after VIFF? Any theatrical release plans?

No theatrical run planned yet but we are hoping to screening in Pittsburgh for Frank and his friends soon.

This sounds like an interesting doc made in a unique way. For those aspiring filmmakers reading our site and wanting to make a film, what would you suggest as advice to them?

Make films with people that are interested in the same things you are, don't get obsessed with the newest technology, just follow your interests and make a film about that on whatever format you have around you.

And finally, what is the best film you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

Probably ROUGH AUNTIES by Kim Longinotto at the True/False Film Festival in 2009. Incredibly powerful film. Longinotto has an immense amount of heart in her films. Also WHORE'S GLORY by Michael Glawogger, at TIFF, another very different but equally moving film.

Be sure to follow the progress of FRANK & THE WONDERCAT by visiting the film's official website, and be sure to follow on Twitter at @wondercatfilm and on Facebook!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from Septembe 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 09/21/15 06:21:04
last updated: 09/21/15 06:26:56
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