Cats on the French Riviera in 'Bela: L'Homme Chat'

Béla, known as 'the Cat Man' travels throughout the south of France to perform on the street with his three adorable cats. This candy-colored documentary follows him for a day as he performs on the French Riviera. Filmmaker Paul Trillo met his eccentric subject during the Cannes Film Festival, and talks about the experience of hanging out with Béla, and his cats, an interview below. 

The Atlantic: How did you find Mr. Béla? How long did you spend filming with him?

Paul Trillo: I met Béla Edeí during the Cannes film festival. I had gone there as part of the Real Ideas Studios filmmaking program with the task of shooting a documentary there. I'm not a documentary filmmaker, so I was nervous about how to find and approach my subject. Béla caught my eye immediately as he walked past during lunch. He barely spoke English, which made things difficult a far as coordinating the shoot. I had limited time to shoot and edit the film so time was very critical. He disappeared for a few days at one point, without leaving any way of contacting him, and put a real wrench in things. After I spent three days searching for a new subject and my soul, he magically appeared on the street and we were able to finish shooting.

Did anything you learned in the course of filming surprise you?

The entire shoot with Béla was a surprise from beginning to end. First of all, he is more normal than most people think. There were many surprises throughout: the fact that he came from a family of tiger trainers, his passion for what he does, the repeated confrontations with others, and his telling me that I am part of his "family." Most street performers are laughed at and then ignored. After spending so much time with Béla, I felt as if he was different or had a better story than the rest. But the truth is (and this sounds cliché) I think that every person has an interesting story -- it just needs to be told in way that is true to them. The story doesn't end where the documentary ends. Coincidentally, I later booked a hotel room on the same block as his house in Toulon. So I continued filming him at his home without the makeup and I may end up cutting a longer documentary.

How did you achieve the color scheme of the film?

All the color correction was done in Adobe After Effects. The color derived from Béla's own wardrobe palette, low contrast pastel colors. It felt like it matched who he was. It also gives the documentary this surreal magical quality that almost makes you believe that it's not a documentary but short fiction.

What are you working on next?

My next project is somewhat more ambitious, a 20 - 30 minute narrative. We recently raised the funds through Kickstarter, which is such an amazing resource. The film is about an insurance salesman on his 65th birthday and his struggle with time, age and regret. Things get a bit weird when he meets his long-lost brother and revisits his past via a memory-powered time machine.

For more videos by Paul Trillo, visit http://thenoproblem.com/.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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