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Interview: Director Marie Ullrich on Blu-ray & DVD Release of ‘The Alley Cat’

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CHICAGO – Using Chicago as a backdrop has rarely been as kinetic and exciting as under the direction of Marie Ullrich. Expanding upon a short film she produced in 2010 called “Faster,” about a bike messenger in the Windy City, Ullrich went for a grittier and more emotional look at that world in “The Alley Cat” in 2014. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th, 2016.

“The Alley Cat” evolves the story of Jasper (Jenny Strubin), the protagonist in the previous short film “Faster.” In “The Alley Cat,” Jasper is participating in a nighttime bike race/rally through Chicago, with her bike messenger colleagues. At the same time she is having family issues, including a relationship confrontation with her sister. Everything is coming to a resolution on race night, as fast as a lightweight bike on flat pavement. The film uses the available light of the streets, and is told through several separate episodes framed by the bike race. The adventures of Jasper contain movement and mystery, and Jenny Strubin – under the direction of Marie Ullrich – delivers both energies.

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Jenny Strubin in ‘The Alley Cat,’ Directed by Marie Ullrich
Photo credit: Gravitas

Ullrich got her primary film training in Chicago, with a Masters Degree in Film Writing and Directing from Columbia College. “The Alley Cat” was her first feature film, after five short films. HollywoodChicago.com interviewed Ullrich on the red carpet at the Chicago International Film Festival.

HollywoodChicago.com: You got a particular look in the film, a yellowish tint that was like film noir in nature. Was that available lighting or achieved in post production?

Marie Ullrich: It was the look that existed under the sodium lamps of the city. We actually eased up on it in post production, as not to have the whole film in a yellowish cast, because it was a bit overpowering.

HollywoodChicago.com: The stations in the bike race can symbolize many things, even in a religious sense. What were you trying to express through the stations in the film?

Ullrich: It was basically about bike messengers at each stop, hanging out because they didn’t necessarily want to ride. I wanted to have humor in those stops, and have some improvisation from the actors to allow them to have some freedom in those scenes.

HollywoodChicago.com: What did you expose about the code of the bike messenger world that the audience may or may not pick up upon?

Ullrich: It’s a very intelligent, athletic and punk rock mentality. They have an intimate knowledge of the city…I made sure the manifests on their orders were real, and some of the locations only they could understand. Knowledge of the city is a point of pride for the veteran messenger…the race in the film is not a speed race but a point ‘A’ to ‘B’ challenge by the shortest routes, and getting to the checkpoints in the most efficient order.

HollywoodChicago.com: How would you define the character of Chicago in the film?

Ullrich: It can be cold, harsh, lonely and dark, and the film communicates that. But also it is beautiful, and there is a moment in the film towards the end when Jasper comes to some conclusions, she is riding to the lakefront and she crosses through the Lake Shore Drive underpass on Montrose Avenue, and there is a sparkly mosaic. It was super important to me for her to pass that particular piece of art, because the sparkle was the lifting of her spirit.

Alley 2
Joyce Porter and Jenny Strubin in ‘The Alley Cat’
Photo credit: Elizabeth Morris for Gravitas

HollywoodChicago.com: In the history of cinema, which screenplay would you have liked to have seen land on your desk, with the opportunity to film it, given your style and point of view?

Ullrich: It will be the next one I write. [laughs]

”The Alley Cat” was released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th. See video providers for purchase options. Featuring Jenny Strubin, Omero Arreola, Dana Bernadine, Nick Cardiff, Mike McNamara and Joyce Porter. Written and directed by Marie Ullrich. Not Rated.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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