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1943 January, Cat Island, MS, United States. The FBI is expected at the government's secret military base to see how Japanese-American soldiers serve as 'dog baits'. Based on true events, The Shepherds of Cat Island is a story of systemic racism that takes a single, and continuous look into our prejudice and conscience.

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In 1942 October, with the approval of President F.D. Roosevelt, 26 Japanese-American Nisei soldiers were transferred from Camp McCoy, Wisconsin to the Mexican Bay for a Secret Military Project. The Nisei participated in the so-called ‘War Dog Project’ to train special dogs for the military aiming to help the battles on the Pacific. The project on Cat Island was implemented on the theory that Japanese descents smell different from Caucasians, therefore dogs can be trained to smell that ‘Japanese scent’. When the project did not meet the expectations, the leaders, William A. Prestre and the U.S. Army, carried out even more brutal training methods to deliver results. The film portrays the American battlefield during WWII., not on foreign but domestic soil.

I came across the infamous War Dog Projects of the U.S. Army while doing research for my debut feature which is in development, about the Japanese internment in America during WWII. I was staggered by the facts, how irresponsibly the government approved such a controversial theory about Japanese-American citizens, and how quickly they put that misconception into practice. I was even more appalled by the aftermath of the failed project. No remorse, no regret, no public apology. Recent shifts in the American political landscape stirred up the multicultural melting pot in our society. The ever-increasing witch-hunt of immigrants started to dominate the political and other public rhetoric. The definitions of national and individual safety became unclear again. Being an immigrant myself, The Shepherds of Cat Island is my direct reflection on the manipulative nature of this persistent political myopia.

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The Shepherds of Cat Island is a single and continuous shot film without cuts throughout the whole length of the story. Attila’s strong commitment to the single take comes from two substantial directions. One is the heavy influence of Hungarian cinema on Attila’s directorial approach. The recently revived long take technique goes back to the traditions of Hungarian cinema in the 50’s and 60’s. Director Miklós Jancsó (The Round-Up, 1965, The Red and the White, 1967) elaborated on the long takes that were further explored in a different way in the films of Béla Tarr (Damnation, 1988, Werckmeister Harmonies 2000). Selected images from the films mentioned above.

The second fundamental reason for choosing the long take comes from the personal view on drama and the content Attila wishes to dissect. According to Attila’s philosophy, by dedicating a heavily moral, observant role to the camera, it inevitably gets us closer to the texture of the plot. The continuous flow does not give us the room to look away, forcing us to hold our breath while digging deeper in the inner layers of the images. The camera therefore carries multiple responsibilities when it unveils and hides, and as it discovers and traces the plot and the characters. The “internal cuts” take place within the camerawork, which moves with great sensibility in order to frame the information. This kind of filmmaking approach inevitably elevates tension and sharpens the dramatic statements of the director.

 

Attila Rostas is a multiple Award winning Hungarian born American Filmmaker, Photographer, Educator with strong emphases on social injustice, human biases and prejudice in his filmmaking body. Attila holds a Master's Degree in Economics and Diplomatic Services from Hungary, and a Master's Degree in International Business from Pace University in New York City. He started his filmmaking endeavor at New York Film Academy and finished his studies at San Francisco Film School in California. In 2020 he started to teach courses in Film Production at Mission College in Santa Clara, California. Currently he is Adjunct Faculty at San Francisco Film School.
His films 'Gloomy Sunday', 'The Audition', 'Silentium Dei', screened at film festivals in London, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, Tehran, Budapest, Eindhoven, Thessaloniki, and Tirana among many other places. His latest short film 'The Shepherds of Cat Island' is Attila's conscious step toward his debut feature film in development.

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Beverly Ulbrich, The Pooch Coach, is a seasoned dog trainer and canine behaviorist in San Francisco, CA,.  In addition to working with private clients to obedience train and solve issues such as dog aggression and anxiety, she has been working in TV & film for over 20 years.  She has managed over 750 dogs so far in her career.  She has provided dog casting, training, and wrangling for over a dozen films, and has over 100 TV shoots under her belt.  Learn more HERE.

Producers, Rena Yamamoto and Jason Nou, are San Francisco Bay area native independent filmmakers. On the creative side, Rena has several films under her wings as Producer, Writer, Director, but as an experienced First Assistant Camera and Assistant Director, she also oversees the technical aspects of the overall production.

 

Jason Nou Jason Nou is an independent filmmaker and freelance digital media producer. His works have been screened at film festivals across the country. He earned his B.A. in Film & Digital Media from U.C. Santa Cruz and worked at Stanford University as an online video producer for over a decade. Currently, he works with I.A.T.S.E. Local 16 as an AV technician and as a gaffer for film projects. He is a former member of Nakayoshi Young Professionals, and a long time contributor to the Center for Asian American Media (CAMM) who organizes CAAMFest.

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The film was developed in close conversation between Attila Rostas Film and the San Francisco based production company, Berke Creative. Director of Photography, Stephen Berke, shot Attila’s previous film, Silentium Dei, which received international recognition. Attila and Stephen fine-tuned their working method on long takes while making Silentium Dei, a continuous, single shot drama, filmed entirely on a 100 foot long S-curved dolly track. Stephen is also DP for an award-winning short film, “Snaggletooth,” that had its New York premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and for “The Interview”, that is having its Los Angeles premier at the 2019 LA SHORTS.

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The chosen images are publicly released photos about the different operations of the U.S Army, not only on Cat Island but at other locations as well during WWII. The selection is to illustrate the visual mood of the narrative short drama ‘The Shepherds of Cat Island’.

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