DecaturDocs marks the latest venture of Gabe Wardell and Paula Martinez, for four years the executive director and managing director, respectively, of the Atlanta Film Festival. (Full disclosure: Wardell now regularly contributes to our Screen Grab blog.) In June, the festival’s board of directors relieved Wardell and program director Dan Krovich of their duties, stating financial motivations and a desire to make the festival more populist. Martinez resigned her position a month later.
With the new series, Martinez says, “We want to be the first venue in the region to screen the next Exit through the Gift Shop, Restrepo or Waiting for ‘Superman’, films fresh off of premieres at festivals like South by Southwest, Sundance, Hot Docs, DOCNYC, and others.” The series offers the Southeastern premiere of Kati With an I, following its world premiere at DOC NYC in November and its IFP Gotham Award nomination for “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.”
DecaturDocs’ first two films showcase Southern themes. Kati With an I, screening Sat., Jan. 8, chronicles the three days leading up to a teenage girls’ high school graduation in small-town Alabama. On Jan. 22, Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ explores the history and impact of the great American novel. Martinez explains that DecaturDocs won’t focus exclusively on Southern film. “We think the dichotomy of their methodology perfectly illustrates the wide array of documentary films DecaturDocs will explore. Kati With an I is a premium example of contemporary, cutting-edge nonfiction filmmaking while “Hey, Boo!” is more of a traditional “Ken Burns” documentary about an iconic American novel and its author, featuring archival footage, clips, talking head interviews with notable celebrities and experts, and voice-over narration.”
In part, Kati With an I presents the fly-on-the-wall perspective on a young woman being herself, and the audience can enjoy little quirks like the way she holds the front part of her hair in her teeth while she brushes out the back. The narrative initially seems to meander as we follow Kati from her temporary home — she’s been staying with friends to finish high school while her parents move to North Carolina — to the ceremonies marking the end of her high school experience. Frequently the director captures the grace notes of hanging out in backyard swimming pools with friends.
A plot clicks into place with the appearance of Kati’s boyfriend and sort-of fiancée James Holsemback, an underemployed high school dropout whom Kati hopes will follow her to Charlotte, S.C. Kati clearly loves James and he seems to reciprocate, but he doesn’t seem 100 percent behind the move to Charlotte. We can’t always tell if his apparent passivity and cool emotions reflect his actual feelings for Kati, or if he’s just self-conscious at being off-camera. When the couple sing along to the power pop strains of a rock song, the film captures a feeling of two hearts beating as one, but Kati With an I builds suspense over whether James will let her down or not.
Martinez says that it’s a coincidence that DecaturDocs presents its films at Decatur High School's state of the arts performing arts center and its inaugural film focuses on female high schoolers. “It's not a bad coincidence, though, and we hope this story resonates with Decatur High School students, and surrounding high schoolers as well. The sad truth is that teen audiences—the target demographic for Hollywood's ‘fast food’ product—tend to think of documentaries like a plate of vegetables. When in fact, films like Kati are probably best suited for a young audience more amenable to less traditional story telling, it is a challenge to get them in the door.”
Martinez envisions DecaturDocs as joining the ranks of Atlanta’s other high-minded film series that celebrate cinema as an art form. “We are pleased to join venerable cultural stalwarts such as Linda Dubler at the High Museum, Matthew Bernstein’s Cinema Club, and Andy Ditzler’s Film Love series on the front lines in providing viable alternatives to the cinemaplex,” she says. “Rather than play to the masses—Yogi Bear, Little Fockers, etc.—we will showcase works of particular substance for thinking audiences.”
Kati With an I. Sat., Jan. 8, 8 p.m., DecaturDocs, Decatur High School, 310 N. McDonough St. $15 ($40 for pass of four). 678-658-0787. www.DecaturDocs.com
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