'Kati With an i' is a transfixing documentary portrait
By Marjorie Baumgarten, 11:15AM, Tue. Oct. 16, 2012
In 2010, Kati With an i won a Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. Today it could win an award for Best Film Not Playing in a Living Room Near You. But you can fix that … you could be the first living room on your block to welcome Kati for a visit.
Out this week on DVD (Icarus Films, $29.98), Robert Greene’s portrait of 18-year-old Kati Genthner is a transfixing documentary. On the precipice between childhood and adulthood, Kati simultaneously fears and embraces the future beyond her known world. This is articulated not so much verbally as visually. Greene and his talented cameraman Sean Price Williams (Frownland, Beetle Queen Captures Tokyo, Somebody Up There Likes Me) capture the small gestures and glances, the bravado that masks the worries, and a sense of place and poetry that embed Kati’s story within layers that are both unique and universally transcendent. The film is punctuated with footage of Kati as a child and a coda filmed months after the film’s events.
About to graduate from a high school in Jacksonville, Ala., Kati is on the verge of leaving behind her successful world. A popular girl who is matriculating with academic honors, Kati is also engaged to 21-year-old James. Kati enjoys school, and stayed in Alabama to finish her last two months of high school after her parents moved to North Carolina in pursuit of work opportunities. Now that graduation draws near, she is to move north to join her parents and leave the small-town womb behind. During these last couple months while Kati’s been crashing with a friend, James has turned from boyfriend into fiancé, and the plan is for him to move to North Carolina with Kati.
The film seems to capture everything and nothing at once. Long stretches at a pool party and a shopping mall seem endless – and that’s maybe the point. Some viewers may fidget, others will find enlightenment in passing fragments that reveal much without saying anything. A graduation ceremony seems to go on ad nauseam until the speaker on the podium launches into a diatribe against the new requirement that they drop Jesus from the curriculum and enumerates a laundry list of items that cross the theoretical line that separates church from state.
What’s so striking about Kati with an i is how natural the subject is in front of the camera, and how raw and unself-conscious most of the material seems – especially in light of teenagers being the most notoriously self-conscious people around. As a viewer, you may start to doubt the documentary’s honesty and begin to suspect that some of the scenes have been staged or, at the very least, rehearsed. Kati is articulate, expressive, and lovely to watch. This comes through even in the old footage of her as a child. She is one of those creatures that the camera is said to adore; she seems very alive in its presence. We should give the filmmaker credit for recognizing this attribute in his leading lady. And why would he not?. Robert Greene is Kati’s half-brother and he has been filming her throughout her life.
That Greene is Kati’s half-brother really only becomes evident in a 12-minute interview included among the DVD’s extras. The relationship explains why Greene is able to insinuate himself and his cameraman so invisibly as the film’s action sprawls out in front of them. He’s her brother and he’s always had his camera in her face, and the three days during which the film elapses are no different. Kati probably never suspected that the movie was about her, per se, and maybe her half-brother didn’t either. There’s enough here that’s universal about teens in semi-rural Alabama to make one think that the movie might have started with a wider focus before narrowing down to the subject that the camera clearly loves to watch. Having observed Kati throughout her life also gives the director an extra edge in knowing her body language and unspoken forms of communication. In the way that Greene and cameraman Sean Price Williams work together, Kati With an i should really be regarded as a collaborative project.
Not until the movie is over is it possible to see how all the fragments add up to an indelible portrait. Like her half-brother, the filmmaker, you want to keep an eye on Kati as she grows up.
ALSO OUT NOW:
The Slender Thread (Olive Films, Blu-ray $29.95, DVD $24.95): The directing debut of Sydney Pollack features Academy Award winners Sidney Poitier as a volunteer at a suicide-prevention hotline and Anne Bancroft as the depressed caller he has to keep on the line until the police can trace her whereabouts. The screenplay is by Route 66’s Stirling Sillipant.
Moonrise Kingdom (Universal Studios, Two-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + Ultraviolet, $34.98): Wes Anderson’s most recent confection is certain to have a long life in home viewing formats, judging by nothing more than its staggering four-month run at the Violet Crown Cinema. Opening in Austin on June 8, the film ran all summer until leaving the local theatre just a couple weeks ago in advance of its DVD issue.