It was widely reported that there were no films by women directors in the main competition at Cannes this year. Passions on the comments boards of websites such as IndieWire and film-specific LinkedIn Groups ranged from people claiming that women-helmed films lack quality, to those pointing out that obtaining funding is still problematic for women and a major factor that creates a lack of output by female directors.
One local director's answer is to make a film about a strong female lead character using crowd-sourced funds. That director is Marie Ullrich, and her film The Alley Cat (slated for production in July) is about a female bike messenger in Chicago who competes in an alley cat - an underground bike messenger race - that becomes a spiritual and physical journey after the evening takes a hard turn.
Ullrich says, "I make films about strong female lead characters for whom neither the essential problem nor its solution is romantic, and I chose to go with Kickstarter for crowd-sourced funds because didn't want to feel like I was asking permission (from a studio) to make my movie or to wait three years in development before the project gets green-lit - if at all. My take on the problem is that it's still very difficult for women to get financial backing."
Ullrich has made two bicycle-oriented projects already, the short film Faster!, which has played at juried film festivals internationally (and continues its festival run this month on tour in Germany with interfilmBerlin), and a spec commercial for Chrome Messenger Bags which won a Bronze Telly Award (the Telly's second highest honor). Ullrich says that empowerment is important to her, and bicycles are empowering.
Ullrich hopes her film will gain theatrical distribution and get heavy play in the festival circuit. She wants the film to invigorate the discussion around urban cycling and sharing the road with motorists - a problem she says she contends with daily as a cyclist in Chicago. "However," she notes, "the cinema exists to make us feel. This a film with a strong dramatic arc, and one that I hope will affect viewers deeply. It takes us through the main character's struggles, but leaves us with a sense of hope."
More about the film:
The Alley Cat
a film by Marie Ullrich - in production July 2012
"Jasper is the coolest character I've come across in the film business"
- William Akers, author of Your Screenplay Sucks!
The events of The Alley Cat take place during a single night. Jasper, the main character, is the same character from the short film Faster! in a completely new set of circumstances.
We meet Jasper and her messenger friends during an alley cat race - an alcohol-fueled competition that is put on by bike messengers for bike messengers in alleys and deserted downtown streets in the middle of the night. The night takes a hard turn and becomes chaotic, then a meditation on the meaning of life and a spiritual journey for Jasper as she engages with the eccentrics and loners of the night during her ride to a mysterious destination.
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.