KATE Dolan’s latest short film Catcalls tells the story of two young woman who seek bloody revenge on the man who harassed them on the street as they walked home at night.
James Prestridge of Close-up Culture chatted to Kate to learn more about Catcalls, her own experiences of street harassment, what she learnt from a mentorship with Alice Lowe and much more.
Q: I was saddened to learn that Catcalls was based on your own personal experience of street harassment. Can you tell us about this incident and how it made you feel?
A: WELL a friend and I were walking home one night and a car pulled in to ask for directions. I had a bad feeling immediately. My friend leaned in to talk to him and he was masturbating in his car.
After my friend shouted, he drove off fast. Luckily I got his license plate number, so the police went to his house that same night. Afterwards, they told us that when they called to the door his wife was there and he started crying. It was a strange feeling to realise that someone who could make you feel so intimidated is then just so pathetic.
It really makes me so angry that women are made to feel so unsafe in their own neighbourhoods. Of course, it is nothing new and stuff like that has happened my whole life.
Q: Did making a film that turns the sexual predator into the prey feel therapeutic?
A: I ALWAYS say that making films is like really expensive therapy. It did help in a way – I mean it is always therapeutic to see someone who inflicted pain on you get their just deserts.
But the reality is that the guy who did what he did to us only got fined because the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences Act) only came to being last year.
So now there is the potential of jail time for this kind of offence, but before it was only seen as public indecency. I feel that more positive changes need to be made to make sure that the streets are safe for women.
Q: There is a great scene in the kitchen where Paul (Martin O’Sullivan) realises karma is at his door. Similar to what you mentioned earlier, did you include this scene to highlight and expose the whimpering weakness behind these type of men?
A: WHEN the police caught the guy who did it to us he was just a crying mess – and I tried to imagine what must have gone through his head to risk so much for 10 seconds of excitement.
His wife then knew. Did they have kids? What was he going to do next.? The whole rich mesh of emotions going on in that scene really interested me.
Q: Martin O’Sullivan plays the harasser. He does a great job as do Edel Murphy and Francesca Saunders as the shape shifters. What were you looking for in each character and what did these actors bring to the project?
A: PAUL’S character was a hard one to cast because a lot of men came in to read and they felt sheepish about playing such a villainous role. They all seemed to be focused on the act of masturbating in front of these girls.
When Martin came in it was different. He was so pure and just talked about the emotions of the piece and the relationship between Paul and his wife. He really understood the complexity of the issues in the piece which really stood out to me.
I think with the girls I wanted individuals who were on my wavelength and who got all the references stylistically – and who understood the vibe of what I needed from them. It was also important that the girls complemented each other in their look. So when Edel and Cesca came in and just killed their auditions I was elated.
Q: I imagine Catcalls presented some new challenges for you with the special effects and genre elements. How did the shoot go?
A: THE shoot was tough. Four night shoots in a row with a lot of weather issues such as high winds and torrential rain.
Also, it was the biggest set I had been on in terms of lighting set-ups and the VFX elements. It was a little overwhelming at first but I felt so excited about the project that all those fears quickly subsided.
Raygun in Dublin did the VFX – they were so helpful and supportive throughout the whole process, making it all really easy. They sent out a VFX supervisor to our crazy night shoot despite the small budget and helped with what we needed to shoot – and how best to do it.
I also worked with an amazing DP, Piers McGrail. He is really experienced so he would always assuage any doubts or worries I had. Overall the crew were all so hard working that what could have been a tough shoot ended up going really well.
Q: The Irish Film Board helped fund Catcalls. What is the support system like for a young filmmaker such as yourself?
A: THE team at the Film Board – now known as Screen Ireland – were amazing. They are really committed to backing up and coming filmmakers.
Also recently they committed to putting a focus on female filmmakers, implementing gender quotas across some of their schemes.
It has been amazing for building the confidence of a new generation of female filmmakers in Ireland and I am really excited to see what comes from it a few years down the line.
Q: You tackle street harassment through horror in Catcalls and have previously addressed LGBT experience in Little Doll. Do you plan to continue using film to tackle such issues?
A: ABSOLUTELY. I never quite understand when filmmakers do not use their platform to make some kind of change in society.
I think a great thing about horror is that it allows you to address important issues without feeling like you are preaching to your audience. I am currently working on a feature that is set in the same world as Catcalls but it is about coming to terms with your sexuality as a young gay woman.
Q: You were paired with director Alice Lowe as part of the Guiding Lights mentoring scheme. What did you learn from you time with Alice?
A: ALICE is amazing. She is such a talented individual. She helped a lot with the edit of Catcalls, giving me a lot of great advice on small changes I could make to increase the tension.
She also helped me a lot with writing the feature. She is an incredibly technical writer and had a way of breaking things down so that they were manageable. It is hard to describe.
She is also just an absolute badass in terms of juggling her writing, directing, acting – and also taking care of a young child. She really instilled a confidence in me during her time as a mentor.
Q: Can you name a few of the filmmakers you look up to?
A: THERE are so many. I know it is a massive cliché, but Steven Spielberg is a massive influence on everything I do. I love Jaws, E.T., and Close Encounters.
Then I love Paul Thomas Anderson, Celine Sciamma, and I would be lying if I said I did not love John Carpenter.
It is a strange mix, but so many filmmakers have talents in different aspects of filmmaking that I admire.
Q: What can we look forward to next from you?
A: AS I mentioned, I am writing a feature that is set in the same world as Catcalls. I also have other projects on the backburner that I hope will go forward to development in the next year or so. I also often work on smaller stuff such as music videos – and they are always up on my website.