Claws out in documentary about competitive cat pageant circuit

Catwalk: Tales From the Cat Show Circuit, a new documentary set to air on CBC on Sunday night, explores the world of feline pageants.

Film follows two humans, and their award-winning felines

Aaron Hancox co-directed Catwalk. (Meron Gaudet/Markham Street Films)

Kim Langille shows off a room filled with rosettes and plaques from cat shows across Canada, while her felines, completely disinterested in their own prestige, tussle and hiss at each other.

That's a scene from Catwalk: Tales From the Cat Show Circuit, a new documentary set to air on CBC on Sunday night.

Co-directors Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday that they chose to dive into the world of cat shows because they love exploring different subcultures.

"Our focus is often on people who tend to be misunderstood or categorized — we always look for what's unique about them and celebrate them," McNamara said.

Bob Gleason judges a cat show. Cats are judged to their breed standards, based on appearance. (Meron Gaudet/Markham Street Films)

McNamara is actually allergic to cats, but he said the process of making the film endeared the furry critters to him.

"I've become really interested in the notion of owning one — or at least having one live with me — so I've been looking into hypoallergenic cats. Siberian cats don't have the protein in their saliva that make me itch," he said.

As for Hancox, as an animal lover, the opportunity to spend so much time around cats was "lovely," but it wasn't the only perk.

"From a professional point of view it seemed like a slam dunk. Super-popular on the internet, the world's most common popular pet. We like to do lighter stories and stories with heart — perfect fit," he said.

The film focuses on two women, Langille and Shirley McCollow, and their prize-winning cats.

Kim Langille and Bobby the white Turkish Angora, and Shirley McCollow and Oh La La the fully Red Persian. (Meron Gaudet/Markham Street Films)

McNamara said the two human stars of the film couldn't be more different.

"Oooh La La's owner Shirley is very methodical and determined, while Bobby's owner Kim is loud and brassy and unapologetic."

The directors said while more women compete in cat pageants than men, there's really no way to pigeonhole these owners.

The film tries to sidestep or challenge the stereotype of cat people, they can be quite competitive and don't fit the stereotype of those who are wallflowers or stay at home. Both are complex characters that put it all on the line to win.

Meet some of the people who participate in Canada's cat show circuit - and their cats. 0:54

And the documentary isn't just for the cat-obsessed.

"It's an opportunity to see cats in a light we don't see them. It's a new world for most people, even for cat lovers who never knew this existed," McNamara said.

The one thing that struck Hancox most about making the film was the connection between the owners and their kitties.

"I wasn't surprised by the devotion but I came to the understanding that of all the hobbies you can have, animals are probably the most powerful hobby to be engaged with in one way or another ... A comic book collection won't give you a hug back. Animals are the universal motivator outside of human love," he said.

The movie airs Sunday evening, and is also available on the CBC website.

And for those who catch the cat-pageant bug, Calgary's cat show is coming up. It'll be April 14 and 15 at the Village Square Leisure Centre. 

Co-directors Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox tell us about their documentary about cat shows airing on CBC Television on April 1. It's called Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit. 5:47

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener