FILM – Feature interview with Director Jon Frickey

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We chat with Jon Frickley about his latest film ‘Cat Days’.  After receiving its world premiere at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival, Jon Frickey’s Cat Days was officially selected for Aspen Shortsfest and a further six high profile film festivals.  With so much interest in this fun animation, it is not surprising that the film has been ‘highly recommended’ by the Federal German Movie Rating Board. Cat Days won the ARTE Short Film Prize Award and the Golden Horseman for Gender Diversity Award in the National & International Competition category at the Dresden International Film Festival. This quirky animation also just won the Oscar Qualifying Grand Prix Award at Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film.

Jiro, a little boy, feels sick.  His father takes him to see the doctor. She diagnoses a harmless condition, but it shakes the boy’s identity.
Cat Days isn’t German director Jon Frickey’s first film, as he has been a filmmaker and an illustrator since 2006.  Previously, he was an art director in advertising before following his true passion in filmmaking.  His previous films include Don’t Fear the AtomFinancial CrisisMr. Iiuu & the Nasty Bird and Michelle’s Sacrifice. A trip to Japan inspired Frickey to create Cat Days.
The voiceovers of the characters were created by Japanese actors based in Germany and some students from the Japanese School of Hamburg. 8-year-old Kanon Yamato plays Jiro and Yusuke Yamasaki Jiro’s father.
Cat Days was selected in competition for Berlin International Film Festival, New York Children’s International Film Festival, Dresden International Film Festival, Stuttgart International Film Festival, Athens Animfest and Aspen Shortsfest and has been selected for Anifilm Trebon, Goldener Spatz Film Festival and International Kurzfilm Festival Hamburg.

Thank you Jon for taking the time to talk to us. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

My pleasure. I’m a German-American animation director and illustrator. I used to work in advertising in Berlin, until I decided to try and make my work more interesting.

What made you want to tell this type of story?

Well, I didn’t have an agenda or a message when I started working on the script. I liked the Kafka-like premise, and I liked that it is very silly at the same. I just took it from there and tried to tell the story in a way that would suit the premise best.

Why did you want to tell this story through animation?

Animation is my medium. There was really no other option for me.

Do you think your film would have been still successful if your film were a live-action short instead of an animation?

I really do, yes. But of course, someone else would have had to direct it. It’s one of the few animated short films that has a live-action script, I’d say. In fact, I added the frame-by-frame dream sequences and the night chase scene with that issue in mind, i.e. to give animation some room. By the way, you are the first person to ask questions like this and I feel caught with my hands in the cookie jar. I guess, at least I’m being honest.

What was the casting process like for the voice actors?

Fun. My voice-director Takashi Horiguchi came to Hamburg from Kyoto, and we held auditions at the Japanese School of Hamburg, as I needed two good Japanese children voice talents. Takashi really understood what I was looking for in the speakers better than I did. The result makes me happy, and I can say that without bragging because I have nothing to do with it.

Referring to the last question, what made you decide to go with the actors that you went with?

The two children were Takashi’s choice. Kanon Yamamoto and Iroha Sato reminded us of the protagonists in the film, and they are friends in real life. Then, I liked 10-year old Yuna Fujiwara’s serious voice so much that I decided the narrator of the film could also be a child. Yusuke Yamasaki who voices the father is obviously a real pro, and so is Fumio Okura the animal shelter worker. The doctor is actually by Shinobu Sawada, a kind and clever lady who works in the administration of the school where we did the casting. Visually she does resemble the doctor a little.

What were the positive things you experienced whilst making this film?

Working together with Takashi and the actors was the most enjoyable part on a social level. For me, it was actually thrilling to animate the night chase sequence, because it was the one thing where I left everything up to my hand and the flow, without a storyboard.

What advice would you have for any up-and-coming filmmakers, trying to break into the industry?

I am all for trying out anything you want to try. And don’t do the things you really don’t want to do. I suppose the problem is often, really knowing what you want to do.

Where can people Cat Days?

It will be screening in Trebon, Zlin, Tokyo and Hamburg within the next month. It will be on French and German TV in a year. And after that, it will go online, for free.

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