The Alley Cat

Director’s Cut: Marie Ullrich and “The Alley Cat”

This week on Director’s Cut,  I welcome writer-director Marie Ullrich to discuss her film The Alley Cat. In a documentary-heavy season of our show, I’m excited to talk narrative!

Watch the trailer:

Synopsis:

The Alley Cat is a road movie on a bicycle. As bike messenger Jasper leaves an alley cat race in Chicago’s nighttime streets, the night takes a hard turn and becomes a physical and spiritual journey. Jasper engages with the eccentrics and loners of the night during her ride to a mysterious destination and its emotional secret.

An “alley cat” race is an after-hours, alcohol-fueled street competition between bike messengers that takes place over one night. Throughout the race, the riders showcase their various biking skills at specific checkpoints. 

Poster for the film The Alley Cat (2016)Main character Jasper, played by Jenny Strubin, is as gritty as the film’s setting. Her character almost seems like an actual alley cat – needy, nomadic and lacking any type of stable home. Her story is as much an emotional endurance challenge as it is a test of physical athleticism and bike agility.

The character of Jasper is getting the full-blown feature film treatment after originally appearing in a short Ullrich made called Faster! that became a film festival darling. 

Watch the trailer:

Beyond Jasper herself, Ullrich’s film is wrought with intriguing characters one might only find out in the wee hours of the morning on the desolate streets of a huge city like Chicago. The night is an effective metaphor, as Jasper trudges through darkness in her everyday life trying to make sense of her decisions. Jasper has a child who lives with someone else, which propels her emotional journey after a tragic event that occurs during the race. Ullrich writes:

By taking place during one night, the film exists in a liminal space. This liminality is echoed by the events that occur – things are overturned and unresolved.  This liminality is part of Jasper’s character; the mythological Messenger communicates between the gods, the mortals, and the underworld, occupying no space fully. The film occupies a dark space, but Jasper’s emotional and physical journey ends with hope and uplift.

Ullrich creates a visually captivating picture on a very limited budget – no easy task. The high-definition technology readily available to indie filmmakers is on full display, and she makes the most of it. The photography is as engaging as the film’s characters. 

In this behind-the-scenes clip, watch as Ullrich’s crew tests a potential solution – building a custom seat in the cargo space of Brandon Gobel’s bike where cinematographer Dylan Verrechia can sit while filming:

So carve out a couple hours in the comfort of your living room to watch this gritty film and hear from the woman who created it. Please join me this Friday, June 16, for my interview with Marie Ullrich at 10 p.m. on Director’s Cut. Stick around for Alley Cat itself on Director’s Cut Presents at 10:30.

As always, thanks for joining us on Wisconsin Public Television: your home for independent film!  

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