See Del Buono’s new work at tonight’s showing of Sarah Kosar’s Hot Dog, directed by Nicole Stodard. Buy your tickets here or call 813.220.1546.
When TCT held its cinematography contest for Pool (No Water) in February, I saw Cat Del Buono’s short film, “Why?”. I enjoyed her confessions of why she chooses to make art each day. Even more recently, I came across her satirical take-down of victim-blamers in my Facebook feed with her short film, “How to Not Get Raped,” which she filmed at the 6th Street Container in Miami.
She has received numerous awards, including the Baang & Burne Contemporary New Works grant, Miami Masterminds Honorable Mention, and Best in Show at The Art Place Wynwood (read full bio here). When I found out Del Buono was working on a film contribution to TCT’s Hot Dog, I wanted to know the details. I was psyched when she agreed to have coffee with me in South Beach.
When did you start working in South Florida?
I’m actually from New York. The Miami thing came from 2009 when I did a residency at the Miami ArtCenter on Lincoln Road. The reason why I did that is because my husband and I work in production. One of our gigs was the Super Bowl halftime show. The Super Bowl was down here in Miami, so he said, “Why don’t we just stay here a couple of months?” I was like, “All right! But while we’re here, I would like to do a residency.” No matter what, even though I’m in production, I’m constantly doing my own stuff on the side. I wouldn’t be able to survive, otherwise. So, the next year, we thought, “We should do that again.”
How did you find out about the Thinking Cap Theatre cinematography contest?
Somebody sent me a link saying to do a one minute video. I had all of this other stuff going on, but finally, I took a day, I think it was the day it was due, and I set up a camera. I filmed myself and I cut something in together really quick, and sent it in. The next thing I knew, I got an email saying I was the runner-up. And now Nicole has asked me to help with the next production (TCT) is doing, and I’m really excited about that. It’s going to have this whole visual element as part of it.
What most interests you about Hot Dog?
The first thing I noticed was the female characters. I love to see that because I am getting so tired of always having the male protagonist and the male story with female characters appearing only as love interests. I also love how strange, but interesting, the play is. It said a lot about a topic that isn’t always written about: getting older and how we deal with that. Honestly, I don’t see a lot of plays, I don’t read a lot of plays. But the topic resonated with me. My parents are starting to get up there in age. My husband’s parents. You start thinking about what you’re going to do to take care of them. You see those ads on TV for sending your parents to a home, and you start thinking, would I do that? Is that the right thing to do? I mean, they took care of my whole life. Isn’t it my turn to take care of them now?
How are you approaching your film contribution to Hot Dog?
I’m guessing it’s going to be some projection images, but also some video. It’s going to be a mixture of stills and video to give a sense of old photographs, old footage, and the history of the characters. It was interesting when Nicole asked me to do that because I’m not sure if she has seen any of the work I’ve done previously, but I have done exactly that kind of thing in the past. Super 8 film, graininess, and sound elements that make it seem like we’re reaching back into the past.
Why is it important to talk about the past of the characters?
For me, it seems like it’s a reminder of who this person used to be. I think when someone ages, and they’re now The Dog, their past is forgotten. I think we’re also playing with the audience through synthesis.
What can visual media add to a theatrical performance?
It’s interesting that you ask that because one of the reasons I don’t really go to plays is I’m always afraid someone is going to mess up or something is going to wrong. So I’m just anxious the whole time. Isn’t that weird? But with a film, I know that someone has edited it and picked the best parts, so I can relax and enjoy it without worry. I don’t know why I’m worrying about someone else’s play but…anything live.
But to add the video element for me…I like the mixing of media. I love when people make sculpture and video, or photography and performance. You start the interdisciplinary mixing, weaving, whatever. I think it gets interesting. Because who says everything has to be one thing?
I read about the Super 8 video you made when you were a kid.
Film! Film! If I had video as a child, holy shit, I don’t know what kind of projects I would have been doing. The technology was very limited.
I was always interested in filmmaking. I was always drawing and writing, but when my mom let me use her Super 8 film camera, that was it. I grabbed it and I was the director. One of the first things I filmed was the credits. Starring: me. Produced by: me. Not that I knew what the word “produced” really meant. And then I got my whole family involved. My brother, my sister, my cousins, my aunt. And everyone was in my little film.
I had to record the audio with a tape recorder and (get it somewhat in sync) with the film.
And how old were you when you made this?
Which filmmaker has influenced you the most?
The person who got me interested in experimental film was Maya Deren.
How do you spell her name?
You need to know who she is. I’m serious. M-a-y-a D-e-r-e-n. I was double-majoring in communications and studio art. Her films were one of the reasons why I dropped my whole studio art major. They told me I didn’t have enough room in my schedule to take this one film class, so I dropped my whole major to do film. Film was always something I did and wanted to do, playing around. I didn’t realize it could be a major or a job.
What struck you about Maya Deren’s films?
They’re all about telling stories through visuals, sometimes without sound. The way she saw things was very similar to the way I saw things, starting back when I was a kid. The way light plays on the floor. Shadows. Weird little visual things that you would see and that would hold your attention. That’s why a lot of my college friends thought I was high, and I wasn’t even doing drugs. They were like, we don’t see any of that stuff until we smoke weed. And I said I guess I’m just naturally high, I don’t know (laughter).
I really believe that film should be visually interesting. Don’t show me something I see everyday with a long shot and a wide shot. Use the medium for what it is. Show me something as interesting as the visuals in my head. If you don’t, I’d rather read about it.
I do have to say, though, with the video satires I’ve been making (such as “How Not to Get Raped”), there hasn’t been much going on with that kind of thing. There’s not really any room to play around in that way. I’m more focused on sending a message. But my older films are all about visuals.
Now that I’m talking about it, I may have to try to do that again. Actually, doing this video for Hot Dog is going to be like that.
What did you do after you began the film major?
I continued with film in college, and I continued it in graduate school. I went to NYU film school, but after a year, I left because I was more interested in experimental film. They didn’t seem that interested in me continuing with experimental film. So, being twenty-four years old at the time, I was like, “Screw you, I’m leaving.” I’m spending all this money, and then I can’t make the films I want to make?
What is your favorite film?
I don’t like to say favorite, but I’ll tell you about the most recent film that I saw that I appreciated. It’s an Italian film called Miele. It had a female director, which I was very happy to hear about. It focused a lot on the visuals. I took a friend and my husband to see it. They loved it. I thought they were both going to hate it because it is so unlike an American film, but they loved it. They appreciated the cinematography things that I was nuts about. It really adds another dimension to the film beyond telling a story.
My sister did the subtitles for it, so even though I know Italian, I read them. The last time I watched one of these films, I didn’t read the bottom and she got mad at me. She was like, I want you to see my work!
How has feminism influenced your work?
It wasn’t my original intention. I just always worked on projects I found interesting. Coming to Miami started it in part because I noticed so many women here have had plastic surgery. That’s when it started, and it hasn’t stopped since. I’ve had a friend tell me, “All right, Cat, enough with the feminist work. You’ve got a lot of really great work. No more feminist stuff.” But I have to do it. I’m going to keep doing both. Installations that don’t deal with that kind of stuff and play with technology and other ideas–but then I’m still going to do this work. Feminism isn’t just a woman’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue. I’m not going to stop until society stops, and I don’t see that happening.
What have you been working on most recently?
I’ve been doing some video installations that I received a grant to do (Baang and Burne Contemporary “New Works” Grant). I filmed women down here in Miami. Here’s the cool thing about filming in Miami, it gave me a chance to work with these women. They had me come over to The Lodge, which is a domestic shelter, and work with survivors.
I have a documentary planned. The working title is Dissecting the Wedding. It’s going to get into the history of every aspect of the wedding. The diamond engagement ring, which began with an advertising campaign. The white dress. Women changing their last name. Changing the last name is a custom left over from when a marriage was used to make a woman a man’s legal property. Why on Earth are we still doing this? It’s insanity. So all of that is going to be discussed with visual play in an interesting way. Keep your fingers crossed that we’ll get a grant for the project so we can educate people. I don’t think a lot of people know about this history.
Who says you have to follow all of these rules? My husband and I went to Rome. No white dress, no bridal party, nothing. I said I didn’t want any traditional stuff. I don’t know why. It’ll give me hives or something (laughter).
It started with our poster campaign. I did this with Vivian Marthell from O.Cinema. We put together these posters. One is anti-plastic surgery, #staysmall, and the other is an anti-last name change poster, #notchattel (see photos here). Vivian came up with #notchattel, I didn’t even know what that word meant. But it’s perfect. So perfect! We put them up everywhere we can. My husband helps us put them up, too.
How do you use humor in your work?
Humor is a good way to get a message across. I’ve found that when you start shoving facts down people’s throats, they’re going to shut down and stop listening. So this is an interesting way around that. And honestly, it’s more challenging, and it’s fun.
Has your presence in the film industry helped make the industry more open to women?
There was always an inequality that existed. Geena Davis formed an institute to put together statistics (Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media). It shows that it wasn’t all in my head in college. It’s a fact. It’s a reality for women in the industry. I know people are finally trying to make the change, but it’s more difficult for women to get funding, distributors, to be hired as directors. Places are willing to give a man an opportunity to do a project he has no experience with, but if a woman walks in with no experience, they will not hire her. She has to have it on the resume, whereas they are willing to see the potential in a guy. So there is imbalance there, and I know people are trying to change it, and I want to be involved in it somehow. Any way that I can be involved, I will be involved.
The more women there are in the industry, the more we can help each other. With the guys, it’s a boys club and they all help each other. When I was 20 years old, up in Boston, the guys would all invite each other out for beers. It’s all about relationships, and I wasn’t invited. I also noticed that when it comes to technology, or opinions on technology. I had already had a lot of experience with black and white films, and when I answered a question about the technology required, they asked a guy to check my answer.
One thing I cannot stand is when women see other women as competition instead of seeing themselves as being on the same team. Unfortunately I still see a lot of that even today. Tina Fey brings up this topic in her book Bossypants of all places. I was so happy to see that in her book!
Why are you a filmmaker?
I can’t not do it. And it’s always been part of my life. I can’t imagine it not being.