Cat Show Documentary Scratches Ears of Feline Fanciers… As It Must

By Kim Hughes

Rating: B+

A certain kind of person will march briskly to see new doc Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit. That person understands cats are fundamentally awesome, even if they will walk across an acre of hardwood floor to vomit on a sliver of carpet; if they will joyfully accept what’s known colloquially as “numb bum” one day, then claw us remorselessly for the same action the next.  

 Kim Langille with Bobby (left( and Shirley McCollow with Oh La La. Who would you rather pet?

Kim Langille with Bobby (left( and Shirley McCollow with Oh La La. Who would you rather pet?

I am one of those people. And the women of Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit are my tribe. We can LOL on Facebook when someone posts a picture of a basket of kittens with the phrase “crazy cat lady starter kit” underneath. Ha ha! Yes, in fact we DO have sticky rollers in every room of the house though we refrain from nodding affirmatively when someone glumly refers to having to eat cat food in old age because of insolvency. Because we know cat food is actually really expensive.

Yup, we can take whatever cynicism you can dish because, at the end of the day, we come home to Snowball, and his joyful purring and snuggling makes everything tickety-boo. Also, because — did we mention? — cats are awesome, and also kind of accidentally hilarious if you look just right.

The filmmakers behind Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit, co-directors Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox, also know the complex and sometimes contradictory world of cat culture. So, they wisely allow winking, tongue-in-cheek humour to seep into their story about one fiercely competitive woman and her Turkish Angora battling it out for cat supremacy against a less intense (or is she?) competitor rocking a Red Persian. 

Hairballs are spewed, naps are indulged, and everyone is in on the joke. At least until the judges enter the ring and hoist meticulously groomed, smooshed-faced fluffballs skyward for closer inspection. Then things turn serious for what’s at stake in the civic centres and hockey arenas of Mississauga, Whitby, and Belleville ON are bragging rights and ribbons acknowledging years of painstaking care — even baths with water! — in pursuit of the top spot on the cat show circuit. 

And so, we follow Kim Langille with Bobby and Shirley McCollow with Oh La La as they contend to be the year’s #1 Best Cat, at least in the eyes of the Canadian Cat Association. As the acerbic (and very amusing) Langille notes at one point, “If you’re not number one, you’re the first loser.” Indeed. And it’s all on you, lady, because Bobby clearly doesn’t care.

Along the way, we also meet a married couple, Bob and Elaine Gleason, who travel the country as cat show judges, smoothing ears and stroking fur while making rulings that still seem rather murky, at least from the point of view of, say, a dog show, where a stately trot around a ring and some fancy tricks clearly separates the canine wheat from the chaff. But the stress the human competitors feel on the cat show circuit is palpable and it’s where the doc draws what tension it delivers.

It might have been interesting to see international cat shows and maybe get a bit more insight from the breeders behind these magnificent (if super-high-maintenance) felines. Also, there is no mention of the potential impact of cat breeding on general cat overpopulation, a heart-breaking problem in urban centres across North America and one ill-served by the pursuit of purebreds at the expense of felines languishing in shelters. Maybe that’s another doc, but it’s a hard pill to swallow knowing there is an estimated 100,000 homeless cats and kittens in the Greater Toronto Area alone. 

Still, this is intended as amusing eye-candy for cat fanciers, and people who love cats won’t be able to get enough of the behind-the-scenes stuff about playtime and grooming and wands with shiny feathers that invariably dazzle gorgeous creatures who, truth be told, would probably rather just go back to sleep.
 
Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit.  Co-directed by Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox. Opens March 23 (and plays through March 29) at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema; world broadcast premiere on CBC Docs POV on April 1 at 9 pm. Also available online at cbc.ca/CBCDocsPOV as of March 30, 5 pm EST.