In the often humdrum world of cinema, it’s always refreshing to find a film that genuinely takes you by surprise. Enter Mary Dauterman’s Booger making its appearance at the Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia), a film that is as much about the transformation of grief as it is about a peculiar cat’s bite. This unique narrative, deeply rooted in the essence of human connections and coping mechanisms, brings to life the strangeness that often accompanies loss.
In our exclusive chat with Dauterman, we explore the raw emotion and vision that gave birth to a werewolf Bodega Cat and the evolution of this unique storyline amid the backdrop of a pandemic-ridden New York City. With Grace Glowicki brilliantly steering the narrative, the cast’s eclectic mix promises a roller-coaster of emotions that oscillate between humour and anguish.
As Dauterman takes us behind the scenes, she unravels the intricacies of her writing process, the challenges of translating her script to the screen, and her personal hopes for every viewer’s takeaway. For those who revel in tales that defy the ordinary, Booger promises an unforgettable cinematic experience.
Let’s just get started with how the idea and concept for Booger came to be and how you got involved in the project.
Mary Dauterman: Yeah, it was a concept I’d been writing and toying with for a little while: a werewolf Bodega Cat. However, it slowly morphed into more of a story about grief and friendship. I was writing it during the pandemic while New York was in lockdown, which definitely infused the film with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
You mentioned grief and loneliness, and friendship as the core of Booger. How during your writing process did the cause of the werewolf cat concept kind of merge with those themes?
Mary Dauterman: Yeah, this is one of the first features I’ve ever written, and I learned a lot about story, structure, and character while working on it. As I experimented and reflected, I considered what I could connect to the most emotionally. I thought about what had happened to me, what I wanted to say as a writer, and what felt the most intense and vulnerable. That’s when I realized this was something I had a lot to say about, something that could become a full movie. This insight, combined with the body horror and the more outlandish elements, expanded the project from a tiny idea into an actual character study.
Did you have actors in mind to portray the different roles in Booger, or did that kind of come in the casting processes afterwards?
Mary Dauterman: Grace was someone I wanted for the film pretty early on. I believe she’s a unique performer, both super physical and incredibly emotional. This movie is specific in what it requires of its lead, and Grace was probably the only person I had seen who, I felt, could do it all. Her movie Tito is very physical and unusual, and she also starred in this poignant short, Her Friend Adam. In that film, her performance was both funny and emotional. She knows how to use her body to convey a wealth of emotion. The way she expresses things is remarkable.
I had wanted her from early on and reached out when I felt the script was mature enough for an actor to see and, hopefully, resonate with. It was incredible that she was drawn to the script and wanted to be involved. After securing Grace, we looked at many Brooklyn comedic performers I admired. There are some stand-up comedians in the cast, as well as actors I deeply respect. A lot of our casting was centred around New York talent we admired and hoped would want to join the film. Watching it, I felt the movie had a strong, dreamlike quality in some scenes.
Was that always the intention to give you an ambiguous sense of what really going on, or did that kind of come after the writing process?
Mary Dauterman: Yeah, my background is definitely more on the visual side. I was an art director, so I always knew that the imagery would be part of the emotion. As I was writing, I was also working on lookbooks, references, and sketches. The feel of the film was certainly embedded in the writing.
Now from page to screen, was there anything that you had to really change, or did the concept you had written down originally come to life as you expected it to in Booger?
Mary Dauterman: There were a lot of things that changed and morphed. Keeping the footprint of our production small was important because we couldn’t move around much. I think I merged a couple of locations. I might have combined some characters. The transition from script to what we knew we could produce, in collaboration with my producer, led to some changes.
However, there were also fun surprises that expanded the film in ways that became clear during the practical execution. This was especially true when working with Grace and discussing ideas for the cat behaviour. So, I believe there was both consolidation and expansion during the production.
“I hope that everyone has a slightly different experience watching Booger.”
With any film, people take a lot of different things from what they see on screen. Do you have a definitive answer to what was really going on in the film, or do you want audiences to interpret it as they will and take it as personally as possible?
Mary Dauterman: Yeah, I definitely have definitive answers for everything, but I really enjoy hearing everyone’s different interpretations. So, I’m happy for audiences to embrace the ambiguity and form their own interpretations.
The sense of loss is slowly dulled over the course of Booger. Was that always the intention, to make it so you’re not really sure what happens with the loss in question, or did that come naturally as you were making it?
Mary Dauterman: Definitely, a big piece of it was the denial. Anna’s refusal to live in a reality where her friend has died makes the reality of the movie a bit shaky. That was certainly a choice.
Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia) is one of the premier film festivals for movies that go beyond standard Hollywood fare. How does it feel to be a part of that, and what is your takeaway from it?
Mary Dauterman: It’s been really incredible. The audiences here are fun and engaged. Every movie feels like a midnight movie, even if it’s showing at 11 a.m. I love that energy, and being here has been wonderful. All the programmers I’ve met are cool, and I’ve enjoyed all the other films I’ve seen. It’s been such a fantastic festival for Booger to be a part of. I’m very excited about it, so being here in person has been amazing.
For anyone who might not be at the festival or who wants to catch the movie elsewhere, what is the one thing you want them to take away from watching Booger?
Mary Dauterman: One thing to take away? I don’t know. Honestly, I hope that everyone has a slightly different experience watching Booger. I hope that it’s hilarious, gross, or emotional for different people. It’s been really exciting that it seems to be a different movie for everyone who sees it. So, just come in with an open mind, and hopefully, it resonates with you.
Thank you so much. I enjoyed the film, and I’m excited to see what you do next.