When Mye Hoang returns to the Asian Film Festival of Dallas this weekend, she might recognize the same grassroots spirit from its early days.
Hoang’s debut documentary Cat Daddies will be among the screenings at a pared-down, four-day festival beginning Thursday at the Angelika Film Center in Mockingbird Station.
For the event’s first installment in 2002, Hoang didn’t even have a call for entries. She just used her connections to round up films she wanted to see and hoped the audience would show up.
Now the post-pandemic film festival landscape has prompted pivots and partnerships for many smaller events to survive. So with a return to in-person festivities for the first time since 2019, the new AFFD leadership team needed a fresh approach to reconnect with a fanbase that’s larger than ever.
“Our festival sits at the crossroads of a bunch of different subcultures,” said AFFD executive director Tommy Schubert. “Being a fan, I wanted to really get back and touch base with our audience.”
Schubert hit the streets, passing out posters and targeting social media content to groups of devotees affiliated with a broad range of Asian cinema subgenres, from horror to anime to martial-arts action.
Alongside those marketing efforts, Schubert and lead programmer Paul Theiss brought in guest programmers including Justina Walford (formerly of the Women Texas Film Festival) and Frank Yan (CineCina).
Their curated lineup is condensed yet diverse, with 16 features and 11 short films plus a red-carpet showcase on Saturday. Several screenings will include Q&A sessions. Behind the scenes, Schubert and his all-volunteer staff are aiming to stabilize the infrastructure to ensure the festival’s growth.
“I’m getting the car started again. It’s been sitting in the front driveway for a few years,” Schubert said. “I’m delighted to keep this festival going. I want to make sure it’s sustainable.”
Hoang’s documentary will screen more than nine months after winning an audience award at the Dallas International Film Festival in October 2021.
Since then, it’s picked up more plaudits during a world tour of sorts that has seen Hoang personally travel to 19 different U.S. screenings from Massachusetts to Hawaii. She’s heading to Korea in October.
“We didn’t make the film to win awards, but that informed us that it was reaching people and connecting with people,” she said. “I think it’s a universal topic. It’s a film where people can take their friends or take their mom for a night out.”
Both charming and poignant, the documentary follows cat-loving men from various walks of life, delving into their unconventional bond, exploring preconceived notions about masculinity, and then shifting gears to chronicle their navigation of the pandemic together in 2020.
Hoang has always been a cat lover herself, but the film originated from a burgeoning phenomenon on Instagram combined with a sudden feline friendship involving her husband, producer and editor Dave Boyle.
“My husband became a cat guy, very surprisingly to my family and myself,” she said of the stray that captivating Boyle after showing up on his doorstep while they were dating several years ago. “I’m obsessed with the images on social media of men with their cats. It’s so comforting and endearing.”
Hoang worked mainly in narrative features after leaving Dallas for Los Angeles more than a decade ago but plans to focus on a new career path going forward.
“I figured out that this is what I should be doing. I’m more wired to documentaries,” said Hoang, an SMU graduate. “There’s a lot more autonomy and it feels like I have more control over the project.”
Cat aficionados obviously have become fans of the film, but the audience has been much wider than conventional wisdom might suggest. That led to Cat Daddies receiving interest for a VOD release in the coming months, as well as a theatrical rollout that Hoang herself will oversee.
“Men have been conditioned to prefer dogs,” she said. “The movie is about breaking all kinds of stereotypes.”