Friday, August 6, 2021

Josef Kubota Wladyka and Kali Reis talk CATCH THE FAIR ONE (2021) Bentonville 2021 and Fantasia 2021

The interview that follows was done in June of 2021. It was done in person for the Tribeca. Because of issue with transcribing I'm now publishing it for the appearance of the  film CATCH THE FAIR ONE at both Fantasia and the Bentonville Film Festivals.

Josef Kubota Wladyka is a director who I discovered when his film DIRTY HANDS played Tribeca in 2014. He has work extensively in TV since then. Kali Reis is one of the top boxers in the world. She is shortly going to be defending her world title on DAZN. They met in 2017 and after talking together they came up with CATCH THE FAIR ONE, the story of a boxer trying to find her missing sister.

 As film festival interviews go this was a long one. It ran about 40 minutes, which was twice the scheduled time. I've trimmed a some material that didn't focus on the film (or boxing- forgive me I'm a boxing fan and to speak with a world champion was a delight.)  If you are seeing this on the front page of Unseen Films you will find there is a page break to the majority of the interview.

I do want to warn you that I do discuss the ending of the film. I did that because when I saw the film at Tribeca the reaction to the ending split the writers I know who saw it. The reaction to the film was vey good except for this one blip. I have marked the start and the end with a spoiler alert.

I want to thank both Mr Wladyka and Ms Reis taking the time to do this. I also want  to plead for some one to hire Ms Reis to beat the snot out of The Rock.

Josef: It's great for us for it not to to be another Zoom interview.
Steve: I have problems with Zoom. .It's erratic. So it's just so good to meet you.
Josef: Yes, very nice to meet you.
Steve: You had DIRTY HANDS five years ago...
Josef: Seven, 2014.
Steve: Forgive me it all blends together at Tribeca. I was wondering did they invite you back, or did you have to submit?
Josef: We just submitted. 
Steve: I was curious because I know some festivals like New York Film Festival, l once you get in you're almost, guaranteed  to get in again.
Josef: Maybe it doesn't hurt. I'm sure. But it's, it's great to be back again. (pauses) I can't believe it's taken seven years...
Steve: I know you did a lot of TV. Is it harder to do the TV because you're doing somebody else's project?
Josef: Yes.
Steve: And you're doing episodic?
Josef: And it's totally different.
Steve: I know for some shows you did five episodes. And then like, and then you one on the "Walking Dead." And it's like, is it hard to just come in and do like one episode of that?
Josef: I mean,  it's a different skill set.  It's still directing. I mean, I'm very grateful and blessed, you know. It's what pays my bills. I was able to pay all my student debt off because NYU Grad films were expensive. 
 But, , but it's a different...It's  not your vision, necessarily. It's the showrunner's vision.
I mean, whereas this, you know, it's our film, you know, we're building the whole visual language in the world and everything. And the TV show, depending on the show, especially if you're doing a middle episode, a lot of that stuff is already in place.

So it's really just being able to come in and, and execute, make your days work with the actors', block it, and, and just, you know. Of course you try to elevate your episodes, what you can and bring your, your eye and your thoughts to things. But it's a completely different skill set.

But, one thing that's amazing about it is I've learned, I've done 16 hours of television now. [laughs] So I've learned, I, we wouldn't have been able to make this film, the way we made it if I hadn't had done all that television.

Steve:  Why is that?


Josef: Because we shot this film in 20 days. And in television, it's the number one thing is the time. You don't have time to do anything.  On my first film I worked with non-actors. I hadn't really experienced just meeting an actor, shaking their hand, blocking and then shooting. This is very foreign to me. Like, I'm used to this, like working with someone two years where they act in a film, you know, so we're like family.

But this is like, you meet the actor, shake their hand, "Nice to meet you. OK, OK. Let's read the scene. Let's block it," which is terrifying at first. But then it taught me a lot especially of how to work with very seasoned actors, you know, how to just work with them.

And then it was great to apply for this because we had like Kevin Dunn and Lisa Emery and some, some great actors. And, I now I knew what that was like because they're we're just coming in for one day and they're gonna do their scene and they're gonna go.

So yeah and then also being able to use the different tools, you know what I mean? Being able to, you, you know, my first film, we shot the whole scene on a easy rig. Now with television, I've done steady camera shots and dolly shots and big explosions.

So, being able to take all the, the knowledge of that and apply it to this film, but still being able to do it you know, on an Indie level.

Steve:  How did you two meet? 
Josef: So in 2017...
Kali Reis: He slid up on my social media DM. That's what happened.


Josef: But, I was getting into boxing myself. Like I love, I have, well, now spending more time with her had such a love and appreciation for boxing, but I was learning about it myself.
And my friend who owns a boxing gym. I found Kali through his social media of the boxing gym.  I was immediately drawn to her not only because she was a world champion boxer, but she uses her platform.

You know, she's the artist and the activist to speak out on what she really cares about. And for me, you know, I'm a filmmaker trying do the same thing. So, I reached out to her asked her if I could just meet with her and hang out with her and talk to her.

So I drove up to borrow my friend's car, borrow a little camera, went up there, and I started hanging out with her. And at the time, she was training for a fight, so she had to go to the gym.

So I said, "Can I come with you?" So we went to the gym. It's an archetypical hot, tiny teeming boxing gym, the classic gym, right?

Kali: Yeah. [laughs]
Josef: Sweaty world champion guys and all these jacked-up dudes, and her just doing her team, team getting the bag, and all this stuff. And so, by the time it comes time to spar and these guys are just talking junk, you know, she takes out her cheap piercings, puts her headgear on, gets in the ring, starts going toe-to-toe with these guys.

And in, in that moment, as a filmmaker, there's an inexplicable thing happening of like this power of this, this disgrace, this truth. I want to, I want to bring this truth to power and put it in a film. And one thing that Kali, you know, has always talked about and advocates for is the awareness of the missing, murdered indigenous crisis in North America.

At the time, it was something that I was researching and learning about as well, because I was ignorant to it, and we started talking about an idea of making a film together. We both have older siblings. So, you know, siblings and, and it's a big theme for us. So I had initial idea of a woman looking for her sister and then we just...

Over the course of two years, it was just an influx collaboration working together, and building the characters, and the story and everything.

Kali: Yeah. Pretty much. He, he reached out to me on social media, and  I'm like "What, what?" [laughs]
Steve: You had no idea who he was?
Kali: I didn't, but he told me who he was, and of course, I did my research. I'm a very accomplished boxer. I have these people who say "Hey, I'm a director. I have an idea," and it's usually BS so I'm like, "All right, cool. All right, yes." He, he is who he is, that he is.
Josef: And I sent her my film. 
Kali: Yes, so I was like, "All right, go on." And then he had this idea...So his approach on it was very respectful, because it's not his, his area and he want to just get to know me and ask me. "You haven't thought about acting?" and I'm like, "OK," I've always want to get into acting.

I just didn't know how or when, or what was gonna happen, and if it was meant for me. It would and, you know, a week later, he reached out to me. So he said, "I just want to get to know you, come interview. Maybe try a few little goofy things acting-wise to see how you are on camera."

You know, as we started talking about the missing and murdered indigenous crisis and I do go to communities, and do go to this reservation. I see these people firsthand, these families at some of these stories and being an indigenous woman myself, I know this. This is what we live.

This is my life, so the fact that he wants to highlight something that was really important to me was intriguing, and I'm like, "All right" as being an artist as well to actually, you know, get people in some kinda way in the style of a movie, entertaining movie.

Like how can we have this very, very heavy subject being at the same value, but capture the audience where the now they're gonna ask questions because the biggest thing that we can do about awareness is make people who are unaware aware. Bring it to a platform that people...I don't need only a bunch of Native Americans sitting and watch this movie. 

I need people who have no idea about this to access, to ask some questions, and more people know more preventative actions can be taken. So, it was amazing to be able to, you know, ease out a couple of my tribal elders. Just even get to know the history of my tribal, where my people come from.

Because being Native American  I'm underrepresented, being biracial and being Black and natives especially being from the Northeast Coast tribes I'm even more underrepresented. You think of Native American, you think of Lakota, Dakota, Cree, Navajo, but there's a whole other part of the nation...

I'm from the Wampanoag nation. WWe're the tribe to be the first contact with colonists...
...and we're the ones that get forgotten about and judged, because we have so much mixed. So, the fact that he wanted to showcase that and the both biracial, like it was just so many things that we connected on that was just really dope to be able to create what we have now.
Steve: How much of this story is real? How much of this did you make up? It's in certain ways there are things here we haven't seen before in the movies....
Kali:  It's not a true story. It's based on emotions. It's based on what these...what I personally know. My people feel this loss, the sense of loss. Even if you're not indigenous, you have people that are close to you. If you lose them, what are you going to do? What would you do?

But this is just an issue that's not hin the eye of the mainstream and media it needs to be. Yes, a lot of this is very real because of real emotions. This girl just lost her sister. She just wants to find her. What do, what would she do?  

 Steve: Actually it's almost like a noir

Josef: It's fictitious. We didn't want to take anyone's real specifics or... so it's fictionalized. And, you know, for me as a filmmaker, sometimes the most powerful films use genre to draw in an audience. You know what I mean?

Because if this was a straight drama, perhaps not as many people would be intrigued to watch it, but then you can use the tools of genre to explore the themes that we're touching on 

I mean, we always said we wanted to make it an unrelenting ride. It starts, and you just go deeper. And then it leaves you with a punch in the gut at the end and leaves you thinking.

No way and shape or form is it an answer or an explanation or anything like that. But we just wanted to move people, you know. t's then that Ill see how people react. 


Steve: I want to ask you something, it's something about the ending. It's only because I've had discussions with some people who've seen the film. And it's just there are different reactions to it.

The end of the movie, there's the shooting. And....  then there's the sequence that's the fantasy or whatever. Why did you put that there? The only reason I'm asking is the reaction to almost everybody is, is...When you get shot, it's like everybody goes and it goes black. Everybody's, "Oh shit!"


Kali: Yes.
Steve: And then there's the scene after that, and it confuses some people. Why did you decide to include that little bit?

I'm asking because I've talked to people who were there, who've seen the film and they reacted to to the blackout with the gasp and then the next bit comes and they weren't sure how to react.

Josef: Right, right, right.

Kali: Good, and you too. [laughs]

 I know what you're saying but you've done enough research to...I mean, the reason for that was because, at the end of the day, she just wants to find her sister and get back to boxing. She wants to be in that happy place again. You know what I mean?

Josef: Yeah.
Kali: But the sad reality is -- the reality part of this theme -- is that there's no answer; there's no happy ending. This is awful.
Josef: Yeah, exactly. I always said one of the rules of the film is that it has to be unpredictable, but inevitable.
I think, I mean, I know it's a sad ending. Well, I mean, first of all, every individual person, as you know, you've watched movies, like you...Every individual person's experience of a film is different. And so, to me, the ending, she's at peace.
One of the things that we always wanted in constructing the design of the film was an idea of a faded memory, you know, because she hasn't seen her sister for two years. So it's like these glimpses of making it feel like a faded memory, like the shots and the locations, and absence and loss.

So  really, that is a little flash of the memory at the end. She said, all she wanted to do was find her sister and just get back into the ring. So we go to that, and she's out. She's with her ancestors, and she's being taken over to the other side. And, and we come back to her in the floor, and she's at peace.

But the bigger thing is I think, you know, to flip the genre on its head of course, you know, we...It's the things that she's going up against, and she's fighting, you know, one person is not going to overcome it. That's why that ending was inevitable, if that makes sense.


Steve:  All of your work seems to be related to crime. I think it's "Narcos," even the, the "Dirty Hands," this...It's all dark subjects. Could you do something like a light comedy?
Josef: Sure. You know, I think it at one point. I mean, as a human and as an artist and a filmmaker, certain filmmakers are drawn to certain themes. And I think just I've always been drawn to grounded films that explore the darker side of humanity. I feel that's, like we need those movies. You know what I mean?

I mean, I would love to make a comedy one day, but, you know, a lot of it is predicated on what's going on with your life and what you are as a person. 

Josef: But I also get really inspired by real people. Hence my first film when I was traveling through South America, and went through Buenaventura and I met the kids from that acting troupe. I'm a filmmaker who real people really inspires.

And also what's beautiful about when you make a film of the real person, it's not like  you just get some big actor attached, and then you meet them and you make this film. This is,  a journey, a trust. And it's just that as a filmmaker, it makes me feel alive. Like for example, finding the money for a film like this is like impossible.

There's a lot of ups and downs and you think it's never going to happen, but at any point, I can grab my camera, I can grab my friend who's an actor, and I can go meet up with Kali, and we can work and shoot and work on these scenes, and explore.

At least it feels like I'm making something. Because it's that the "D" word is the bad word for all filmmakers, because you're in purgatory forever. Um, so there's that aspect of it too, which again, I'm a curious person, I think, so I'm just drawn to real people as well, you know. But yeah, maybe I was a criminal in another life. I don't know.


Steve: (turns to Kali)I have to be sure to ask you this before we run out of time, because I know it's relatively short at this point. What are you doing next, and when are we going to see you again because you're one kick-ass woman?You're a great actress, in all seriousness. You, have to make more action films.
Kali: I want to. I want to. I definitely want to, this is he, Put me in John Wick's and Fast and Furious." 
Steve: Please, somebody give you an action film where you kick The Rock's ass or something.


Kali: I'm down for it, man. Physically, that's the thing, I kinda have a one up, because I'm a physical person. I've been boxing since I was 14. So the physical aspect and the work ethic that I have in boxing, I can apply that to acting. That's what we did here. 
I got the best acting coach and all right, what do I need to do? What do I...What can I do? How do you get the best out of me in this performance? Like, I know how to do that in boxing and this...Anywhere I go, I'm like, all right, what do I have to do? By any means necessary? All right, it's gonna suck. Cool, but I know I'm going to be at my best to do with the task ahead. So, absolutely, you'll see me again, you know, that's for sure.  
Steve: Are  you two going to work together again?
Kali: Absolutely. He's stuck with me for life. He's my homie, yo.


Josef: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'd love to make a movie just about boxing. 
Steve: You should.
Josef: Um, and, um, I'll always...Yeah, I'll always be looking out for her TV roles or whatever.
 But I am not worried. I think once people see her in this, regardless of what people think of the film, I think she is a tour de force, you know, and I knew that the minute I started putting her on camera, and I knew that there was something special.

And she's a professional athlete, so she has the discipline, you know, that's what was really amazing for me as a director, like to come in and do a whole choreographed move, and hit your mark, and hit the light perfectly. And you know, that's hard as, even if you're a seasoned actor.

Steve: There's times in the film, you don't look good. And it's like, you look like you went through the wars. I love that you  let yourself to be like that. Because it's like, so many people will not.
Josef: Well I knew she can be strong, of course, but I think there's a grace and a vulnerability thatcame from when we just started hanging, talking about what was going on in our lives and stuff like that, like I knew, I knew, there's a lot of colors and the character doesn't talk a lot, you know, so it's, it's a lot of just behavior.
Steve: That's the trick. It is not to say anything, and then you have to do the acting  with the eye.  I always quote, Michael Caine on how acting is in the eyes, but I've heard this from a lot of a bunch of actors. You have to be able to do that, you have to show that and then you can get away with anything.

If it looks like you, you're alive behind the eyes, and you have that and it's so rare that somebody MCs that you see that you know, and especially in an action film, it's like, "All right, I'm going through the action.

Steve: When's your next fight?
Kali: It was supposed to be July 23rd, but it's August 20th. So I'm defending my WBA Super Lightweight title and fighting for another title.
Steve: Where are you? Where is it gonna be? Where is it?
Kali: I'm not sure. It was supposed to be in Nebraska, but it might be in some other place. They had to kinda maneuver stuff around. COVID is kinda, like screwing everything up.
But, um, they're gonna have a hundred-and-forty-pound tournament between all the champions. So, I'm one of the champions. There's four of us. So they're gonna kinda of moving everything, and then make, like, a super undisputed champion.
Steve: Which TV?
Kali: DAZN.

Steve: Because I don't know when I'm going to  run into again who's your favorite boxers?

Kali: I have, uh, Marvin Hagler, Maurice Martin, he just passed away.
Steve: Yes.
Kali: Muhammad Ali, Canelo Alvarez, Lucy Riker and myself.


Kali: I'm put myself in there because I've accomplished quite a bit. I'm not done yet, I'm always a work in progress but I got to give myself props that I haven't.
I love so many different fighters. Even the new up and coming fighters. There's so many different reasons. There might be a seven-year-old that I see spar that becomes my favorite fighter because he did something that was cool. That's the beauty of film, arts, boxing...
Steve: (to Josef) do you go to boxing?
Kali: He goes to my fights.
Josef :  I've been to her fights, and  one of my best friends has a boxing gym.

So it's something I'm getting into. I'm gonna go in that little boot camp with her, and she's gonna train me...

Kali: Yeah, I'm gonna put him through a training camp.
Steve: .What are you doing next?
Josef: Um, I just got back from seven grueling months shooting a TV show in Japan. So, um, an HBO show.
Steve: OK.
Josef: So, that was in really rough...
Steve: Did you shoot every episode?
Josef: No, I did four episodes. It was during the pandemic, and there's a state of emergency there. And it was rough.

But I think there was something very personal and emotional, being in the place where my mother's from for that amount of time, but not being able to do anything else because I was working on this TV show and there was a pandemic.

So maybe, maybe a film there that deals with a Japanese American guy, there's something powerful about being so connected to a place, but I don't speak Japanese, you know this is where my mother's from and seeing all my family there .

And when I left I got really, really emotional. And that's never happened to me on any shoot.

And it was not, difficult, exhausting, high pressure shoot. But, um, but yeah, just something about being, you know, I've been to Japan before, but I've never spent that much time there.

Steve: So you really got to know what's there.
Josef: So I think I'm going to go back there and maybe live there a little while and start writing thinking you know.
...I'm proud of what we did and, and, and what we forged, and just, you know, I know it's a tough film, and I'm sure it's not going to be for everyone, but I just feel like getting this representation on the screen and this power, I think I'm proud of that.

Now, that said, clearly I could, if somebody wanted to, I could talk to you for 20 minutes about everything that I think is wrong with the film...

Steve:  Are you gonna watch the film with the audience?

Josef: Kali's gonna watch it. I'm, I'm gonna go have a beer.

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