Director Kareem Tabsch on The World's Fanciest Cat: "Cherry Pop Was the First Cat Meme"
Photos courtesy of Kareem Tabsch
Before there was Grumpy Cat, or Nyan Cat, or Lil Bub, there was Cherry Pop.
A sweet, fluffy purebred Persian cat, Cherry Pop was the apple of her owner's eye. Her owners also happened to be filthy rich and spoiled her rotten. In Cherry Pop: The Story of the World's Fanciest Cat, Kareem Tabsch, co-founder and co-director of O Cinema, brings the story of Cherry Pop and her parents to modern audiences.
The short 10-minute film had its world premiere at the Miami International Film Festival this weekend, and we caught up to Tabsch to get more nitty gritty on the spoiled kitty.
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Huey and Vi Vanek were an eccentric couple from Fort Lauderdale, and when they decided to start a family, they brought Cherry Pop into their home. Soon, the kitty was competing and winning Best Cat in all sorts of shows, and her popularity skyrocketed.
It has been 19 years since Cherry Pop's passing, and nearly three decades since her heyday, but for Tabsch, his first encounter with Cherry Pop remains a vivid memory. His mother used to publish a popular pet magazine and she was also a cat breeder; therefore, naturally, she ran in the same circles - and cat shows - as Huey and Vi.
"I first encountered Cherry Pop as a child, and I still vividly remember walking into a cat show where there was this crowd of people standing around and in the center was this little mini car - which I now know was a little mini Rolls-Royce - and inside was this little cat just sitting there. Nobody was keeping the cat, everybody was just staring at it; the cat was holding court."
That moment left such an impression on Tabsch that more than 20 years later it still lingers in the back of his mind. He comments on how he first had the idea for a short documentary about Cherry Pop and the Vaneks five years ago, and when he first approached Huey with the idea, he loved it.
"He was really excited about it and really forthcoming about sharing his story and his experiences," said Tabsch. Though the project didn't take off until three years later, Huey was still more than willing to participate. "He was super gracious: opened up his home, shared all of his memories, all of his mementos, and it was because of his support that we were able to make the film."
Cherry Pop: The Story of the World's Fanciest Cat, is Tabsch's first project as director and he describes the process as "interesting, fun, and laborious." Since the day he had his first eight-hour interview session with Huey to the film's completion, it took Tabsch about a year and a half to finish the film - "it took a long time," he said with a laugh.
"Thankfully, Huey had done a really good job at preserving Cherry Pop's history in his house, so he had a wealth of photographs and newspaper clippings, along with a box of old VHS tapes that he just shared with us. The process was long, I mean, there's so much stuff that just did not make it into the film, because we were determined to make a short film and keeping it only as long as it needed to be to tell a story."
That story, Tabsch said, went through various cuts - 18 to be exact. He kept asking himself "What is the story we want to tell? Do we want to tell this story of this couple who everyone thinks was wacky and had a lot of money and spent it all on a cat? Or, do we want to tell this other story about Huey and Vi and their love of animals?"
"I describe it as an interesting love story, because it's about this couple that didn't have children, but they made their own family and they loved Cherry Pop very, very much. At the end of the day, they loved animals and everything they did was for the larger cause, which was supporting animal welfare and the Humane Society of Broward County in particular."
Cherry Pop was around long before the Internet exploded into the kind of social mecca it is today. Kareem was surprised Cherry Pop's story hadn't been preserved virtually before.
"I was really determined to preserve it for everyone else."
For Tabsch, it was important to tell Cherry Pop's story. It's like a story about memes before the Internet, and above all, it's unique to Florida.
"I love South Florida. It's a weird, weird place, and there's a lot of really interesting things that go on, and have gone on, that certainly set us apart. This is one of those unique stories. I'm all for more ridiculous '80s drug stories, but I'm also all for ridiculous '80s and '90s cat stories."
"When I describe Cherry Pop as being the first cat meme, it's completely true. As I go on the Internet now and there's Grumpy Cat, there's Nyan Cat, and there's Lil Bubs, I'm thinking: way before any of this was a 'thing,' there was this super extravagant, millionaire cat named Cherry Pop."
Tabsch confirms that Cherry Pop: The Story of the World's Fanciest Cat will be available online in the coming months, "hopefully at other film festivals, and maybe at O Cinema too!" Check O-Cinema.org for updates.
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