Mary Apick’s animated short film ‘The Cat’: An attempt to metaphorically highlight the oppressive practices against women

The award-winning filmmaker, actor and activist who is a powerful voice against women’s plight in oppressive cultures around the world, Mary Apick has attempted animation for the first time in her short film The Cat. The short portrays the dark forces prevalent in oppressive nations. 

In 2005, she wrote, directed and produced the politically charged critic’s choice play Beneath The Veil which was presented in many prestigious venues such as Lincoln and Kennedy Center and Geffen playhouse. Beneath the Veil was a live-action documentary.

For Apick, animation served as the perfect medium to present her message in a dramatic way without being preachy.

Speaking about choosing animation as a medium for The Cat which depicts oppression against women, Apick told AnimationXpress in an email interview, “Actually, Beneath the Veil was a stage play based on real events. I have worked in many mediums to deal with this issue. I have spoken on television and radio and been interviewed in newspapers and magazines. I have produced films and stage plays. I have even spoken before the U.S. Congress. I am always looking for another medium for presenting the issue. Animated film struck me as the perfect vehicle. The people of Iran have been suffering for the past four decades under the Islamic Revolution’s totalitarian regime, especially women and girls. In Iran today women’s legal and human rights have been taken away. For centuries women everywhere have had to fight for their fair and equal position in society. The ‘Me-Too’ movement in the United States, and the fall of Afghanistan have made us all more aware. I’m hoping my little film will help too.”

Apick’s mother was a legendary actress in Iran, so she followed in her footsteps at an early age.

“Working on a show like Octopus – a television series in Iran with a satirical, political bent, gave me a close up view of how the things were being presented, the themes and issues which we explored were accepted into society and influenced the way people thought. I was hooked, both on being an actress and using the medium to present important subjects,” she said.

Explaining the dark forces that the metaphorical black cat represents in the animated short, the director said, “The cat is the shape of the country of Iran. The black cat is the dark force of the country’s rulers imposing their will on the people. It’s as simple as ‘Dark vs. Light and Evil vs. Good’. The Dark not just follows, but pursues the girl, determined to control her, or kill her. A cat can be either a snarling, biting, clawing little monster or the sweetest, most loving companion. I know what I would like it to be.”

The animated short of nearly 13 minutes has a black and white treatment. An international team of animation artists worked on The Cat, whom Apick calls her ‘secret angels’. The film’s background score is a beautiful Iranian rendition.

The Cat

“The background music is played on a sitar for authenticity. Dokhtar Boyre Ahmadi is a beloved old Iranian folk song which I thought would be appropriate for the little girl selling flowers on the streets of Tehran. It would be inspirational to her during her flight from the forces of darkness. I sang this song many times for my own pleasure and comfort as a child,” Apick revealed.

The filmmaker has made films like A Fairy Tale in the Forest and Jewel of The Night for children which talks about parents, homeland and so on.

Asked about the right age to start explaining to the young ones about human rights and existing unfairness, she said, “It’s never too early for kids to start learning about morals and fairness. It’s supposed to be part of life. It’s supposed to be what we value. I have a couple projects I’m working on that are designed specifically for young kids.”

“As with most issues, it’s easier to talk about them than to change them. But the first step is to talk about them, to bring them to light, to force people to face them. Women’s rights are an issue as old as humanity. It’s another fight that is never completely won. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop fighting. I may not change the world, but I sleep better knowing I’m trying,” Apick said regarding the constant struggle for women empowerment and their rights.

The Cat has been screened at more than 30 international film festivals in the past year, picking up awards at the Moscow International Film Festival, the Toronto International Women Film Festival, the Cannes Indie Shorts Award and the New York Indie Short Award. It is now available on Youtube and Vimeo. 

Asked if the short has been showcased in any of the countries where oppression prevails, she said, “Yes, it has been in festivals all around the world and won 17 times, including in Cairo and Dubai, not exactly hotbeds of women’s rights.”

The renowned filmmaker of Iranian expat community also assured animation lovers that this first attempt is the gateway to more exciting projects.

“This is my first experience in animation. But it won’t be my last. I love it. Anything you can think of, you can bring it to life. Nothing is too big, or too small. The only limit is your own imagination. I wanted to present the issue in a dramatic, visceral way, not just preaching. Animation seemed best suited for the task. Animation can be slow, and you may not get the visual image you want at first, but you can redo it, and keep redoing it until it is what you want. You need patience and perseverance,” the film’s director said.

 Before signing off she actually shared an interesting piece of news.

“I’m in pre-production on a very entertaining feature length animation project. But its subject and approach is something I don’t want to discuss publicly at this time. I also have a live action dramatic feature film, Stone Bird, which deals with another aspect of the current Iranian regime – the birth of the religious zealot suicide movement,” Apick added.