Founders of Cat Fly Film Festival Talk Indie Films, Bad Commercials & What It Means to be Female Led

Interview by Jefferson Ellison, done in Partnership w/ AVLtoday.

Madeleine Richardson and Brittany Jackson are two women on the rise. Together, they founded a non-profit film festival that has built quite a reputation for bringing in diverse and burgeoning talent from the Southeast. What makes Cat Fly such a unique endeavor is that it exists solely to tell stories. There's no prize money or trophies, it's simply space for filmmakers to share their art, build community, and support one another. JAWBREAKING has had pleasure of sponsoring this year's festival and while the event won't be the same - Thanks COVID - we look forward to this year's activation once the world re-opens. As with many of these interviews in our Asheville series, I'm proud to call both Madeleine and Brittany friends. They are incredibly talented, ambitious, and passionate about the work that they do and are bringing something new and necessary to Asheville's creative scene. Why did you decide to start a film festival?

(Madeleine Richardson) We decided to start Cat Fly because there was so clearly a need for it in the Asheville area. As a filmmaker myself, there wasn’t any one event that brought together and highlighted the local film community, and hardly any places to submit my work to be seen with a significant audience. So myself and three other female filmmakers decided to create the festival to fill that space, and give filmmakers and artists of the area a platform.

Why isn’t it competition based? (Brittany Jackson) We find that competition can be counter-productive in building a community which is a huge part of our mission. We prefer to create an atmosphere that bypasses the harsh feelings a competitive environment can evoke so that we can focus on bringing people together on an equal platform. We're all friends here coming together in the spirit of filmmaking.

How do you think being female-led and non-profit affect the choices you make?

(Madeleine Richardson) We are definitely more aware of screening work by women and gender minorities, as well as black and brown filmmakers. It’s part of our mission to lift up filmmakers that are up and coming and to accurately represent Southeastern film.

What is your greatest memory over the last 4 festivals?

(Madeleine Richardson) I think one of my favorite memories is the first year, when we realized we had sold out of every night. I felt like in that moment the possibilities for us as a festival were endless. (Brittany Jackson) It’s hard to name one greatest memory. There are so, so many that I could truly ramble on forever. I’d say one of my favorites was taking the stage of the Mothlight (R.I.P.) after huge success the first two nights of our second annual festival. The crowd went absolutely wild- I've never felt more appreciated for all my hard work (not to say what I do is not thankless- people thank us all the time which feels GREAT).

How do you see Cat Fly evolving over time?

(Madeleine Richardson) I see Cat Fly only becoming larger, and more well-known. First as the biggest film festival in WNC and then the Southeast. We would also like to expand our resources. The idea of the Cat Fly House, part hostel, part library, part screening space...a place for artists in residence, that has been a dream since the beginning.

How would you describe an indie film?

(Brittany Jackson) An indie film is typically low-budget and requires a lot of resourcefulness to make happen. There's not a lot of money to throw at a problem so you have to get creative when they arise. Indie films also frequently break traditional molds of storytelling which results in a different kind of story than the norm because they don't have to play it as safe.

Knowing some people decide to always/only do Indie projects. What’s the purpose of indie films? Is it as simple as being independent with a small budget?

(Madeleine Richardson) The purpose of indie films is to tell stories that wouldn’t otherwise be heard or funded. There is more freedom in creating a film that’s independent of a studio. And that freedom is incredibly important to some filmmakers.

Are you living your dream? Or would you prefer to focus solely on making films? (Brittany Jackson) I live my dream every day and my dream is ever-growing. When a dream comes true, I dream more. Both Cat Fly and Filmmaking have given me more I could have ever imagined. I don't know that I can do both forever, but both have changed my life for the better. Being able to do both (plus my day job) is its own form of living the dream- I amaze myself with how much I can do which inspires me to keep going. But it'd be nice to eventually have a little more balance so I could feel calmer and remember to eat.

If you could have dinner with one icon from the film industry dead or alive - who would it be? What would you make them for dinner?

(Madeleine Richardson) There are two people and that would be Richard Linklater and Greta Gerwig. Linklater is someone who’s films I grew up watching and made me fall in love with the Coming of Age genre. Gerwig is obviously inspirational because she is one of the only women to win Best Director at the Oscars, and I also just love her films. Both of those directors tell stories that feel so genuine and relatable, I want to tell stories in a similar way. I would probably make something easy such as a charcuterie board and open a bottle of wine so we could focus on the conversation. (Brittany Jackson) Andy Warhol. He made a lot of really cool experimental films. I think about video portraiture a lot. I love his use of pop culture and star power to create hype. I also appreciate him as a producer who brought many different artists together across mediums. I don't cook so I'd just buy him a fast food hamburger and hope he thought the reference was funny.

Has this experience given you any insight into filmmakers coming out of the Southeast?

(Madeleine Richardson) The greatest insight is the diversity in the stories. The southeast and the south in general are not monolithic, and it’s incredibly important for artists of this area to be given a platform to keep showing that. (Brittany Jackson) There's so much talent here, there are amazing things to come. I look forward to hearing more southern accents in film in the future.

What’s a film from your childhood that shaped your perspective on the world?

(Madeleine Richardson) I fell in love with the Harry Potter series when I was in elementary school. I devoured the books and grew up with the films. The fact that they dominated my childhood definitely had an effect on my perspective of the world. (Brittany Jackson) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Least favorite film of all time?

(Madeleine Richardson) My least favorite film is called the Tin Drum. It was horrible, don’t watch it.

Favorite commercial of all time? Why?

(Madeleine Richardson) I don’t know if I have one favorite commercial, but the ones that always stand out make me forget I’m even there for the product. They feel like a short film, and then the product just sticks with you effortlessly. But I also have to mention a commercial last year that featured Zoe Kravitz speaking softly in an ASMR-style on top of a mountain in Hawaii. That one stuck with me for a myriad of reasons. (Brittany Jackson) All the Wicked Weed Brewing Commercials, especially the Burst flavors. Madeleine does a great job on those. ;)

In the largest context, what is the purpose of film?

(Madeleine Richardson) Film has such a huge impact on society and our everyday life. A well told story on screen can be more effective in inciting change than anything else, including the justice system. It can create empathy and understanding for a subject you knew nothing about, and be relatable to an audience of 100 people of all different backgrounds. It has the potential to involve every single medium to bring a story to life. Film is ultimately the most collaborative form of art.

To stay up to date on all things Cat Fly Film Festival, visit their website and follow them on Instagram!