New film KATIE intimately follows Irish boxer Katie Taylor as she attempts to rebuild her career after a year of turmoil threatened to derail her career. We caught up with director Ross Whitaker to chat about the movie arriving in cinemas this weekend.
How did you first get involved with making a Katie Taylor documentary? It all happened because Katie and I share a mutual friend, Brian Peters. As Katie was turning professional, she asked Brian to become her manager and a conversation started. I’d met and filmed with Katie in the past and I knew that she had actually seen some of my previous work, so we had a good place to start from.
What was it about Katie and her story that appealed to you? Many things appealed to me. People love Katie but nobody feels that they really know much about Katie, so I thought it would be interesting to explore her life and motivations. Also, of course, we were starting at a fascinating moment in her career, after her defeat at the Rio Olympics and before she turned professional, and a comeback story is always a fascinating one to tell.
What was your initial discussion like with Katie for the film? The first conversation was very direct and honest from both sides. We said we’d take it step by step but I think, too, that we sensed that we could trust each other from the beginning. I think it suited Katie that my approach is quite unobtrusive.
How much time did you spend with Katie and her team for the documentary? Quite a bit. I went to all of the fight weeks, filming all of the build up from Katie’s point of view. I was on flights and in hotels with her and her team. I visited Katie a number of times in her training camp in Vernon, Connecticut. We also filmed her at home, out for dinner, in meetings, so we had the access that we needed to make the film that we wanted to make.
One of the endearing things about Katie is her humbleness and reluctance to soak up much of the limelight. How did this work for the documentary? Katie was brilliant to work with but we didn’t ask her to do anything out of the ordinary. We just asked her to let us witness who she actually is and that was more than enough to tell a fascinating story.
What challenges did you face while filming the movie? It was an amazing privilege to tell Katie’s story but we certainly felt a pressure in telling the story of such a significant person. You feel a pressure to tell the story with a certain amount of devotion to some back-story moments and that created a challenge. As much as possible, we wanted to tell the story of Katie’s comeback so working in the edit to economically tell the story of everything that came before that was tricky.
With Katie there must be so many interesting stories and different angles for the documentary, how did you decide what to focus on for the movie? I think from the beginning that we felt that Katie’s comeback, with the access that we had, would be the most exciting, intimate and visceral story to tell. Having said that, the audience needed to know what Katie was coming back from, so getting that balance right was the hardest thing.
You’ve worked on a number of boxing documentaries in your career from ‘Saviours’ to ‘Big Time’ to ‘When Ali Came to Ireland’ – What excites you so much about this subject? The first thing I ask myself when I’m considering pursuing a story is the question, ‘what’s at stake?’ and I think with boxing, there often seems to be a lot at stake. It’s frightening to consider how much you can lose and gain in the ring.
What have you learnt about filming the sport over the years? I just find fascinating the dedication and the discipline needed. I think it’s hard for viewers to understand what is required of boxers to be ready to fight in the ring. Katie has been working incredibly hard for so many years to make it look easy and I hope people will get a sense of that in the film.
What other sports documentaries do you admire? I mostly love films that nail an unfolding narrative, that keep you on the edge of your seat and make you wonder what’s going to happen next (even if sometimes you actually do know where the story is going). Sennadid that brilliantly. Stop at Nothingabout Lance Armstrong also achieved that so well.
What do you hope audiences will take away from watching Katie? It’s always hard to answer that question. Firstly, you hope that people will be moved by the film and the feedback we’ve received is that people find it to be both emotional and enjoyable. I hope people will feel that they know Katie a little better after seeing the film. She’s an incredibly brave and special person who has quietly pushed sporting boundaries for women throughout her life. It’s an amazing story actually.