Review: ‘Cat Daddies,’ starring Nathan Kehn, Jeff Judkins, Jordan Lide, David Giovanni, Chris Alese, David Durst, Will Zweigart, Ryan Robertson and Peter Mares

October 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeff Judkins and Zulu in “Cat Daddies” (Photo by Mye Hoang/Sky Island Films)

“Cat Daddies”

Directed by Mye Hoang

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Cat Daddies” features a group of predominantly white people (with one African American) discussing how men and cats can have special bonds with each other.

Culture Clash: The men in the documentary dispel stereotypes that the only people who are passionate about cats are “crazy cat ladies,” and they share stories about how their cats sometimes helped them get through rough times in their lives.

Culture Audience: “Cat Daddies” will appeal mainly to people who like cats and are interested in feel-good stories about living with domesticated cats.

David Giovanni and Lucky in “Cat Daddies” (Photo by Eric Yang/Sky Island Films)

Through entertaining and heartwarming stories, the documentary “Cat Daddies” is proof that it’s an outdated stereotype to think that people who love cats are mostly women. The movie is really about how humans and cats enrich each others’ lives. It’s a simple concept, but the movie does an excellent job of portraying all the complex and nuanced ways that cats can bring joy and companionship, even to people who thought that they weren’t very fond of cats.

Directed by Mye Huong, “Cat Daddies” focuses on nine different men in the United States who share their personal stories about how their cats changed their lives. Most of the men were in their 30s and 40s at the time of being filmed for “Cat Daddies,” while one of the men is over the age of 60. The nine “cat daddies” in the documentary are:

Nathan Kehn (also known as Nathan the Cat Lady) is an actor/social media influencer who lives in North Hollywood, California. He has made somewhat of a career out of documenting his antics with his four cats: Pickles, Ginger, Annie and Princess. Kehn says that once he reached 25,000 followers on social media with his cat videos, he knew that he could try to make a living from it, especially since the cat videos boosted his social media following to a minimum number that he says is needed to be considered for certain acting jobs. As a bachelor who admits he spends a lot of date nights alone, Kehn says he now knows, “I can’t be with someone who’s not an animal lover.” He mentions that he broke up with an ex-girlfriend because she didn’t like cats and wanted him to get rid of his cats.

Jeff Judkins is a software engineer, who moved from California to Minnesota, and back to California, during the course of the film production of “Cat Daddies,” which was filmed mostly in 2020. The movie has an epilogue of updates of what the “cat daddies” have been up to through 2022. Judkins has a black-and-white male cat named Zulu, while his roommate Erin LemMon has a female cat named Mrs. Fitzby. Together, these roommates like to frequently go hiking and camping with their cats. The documentary includes a particularly harrowing experience that Judkins and LemMon had with a wildfire that hit their neighborhood in Boulder Creek, California.

David Giovanni is an elderly former construction worker who has the most tearjearking story in the movie. Giovanni, an immigrant from the European country of Georgia, has lived in the U.S. since 2001, and has fallen on hard times in New York City. Homeless and broke since 2018, he has health issues, such as cerebral palsy and a cancerous tumor on his right arm. He says what gives him the will to live is a brown tabby male cat named Lucky, whom Giovanni treats like a son. Giovanni’s relationship with Lucky (who was raised by Giovanni since Lucky was a kitten) goes though some difficult transitions because most homeless shelters do not allow cats, and there’s a period of time when Giovanni’s extended stay in a hospital and surgery recovery force him to be separated from Lucky.

Chris Alese is a New York City police officer who became a friend of Giovanni’s when he would see Giovanni and Lucky while on patrol duty. “Cat Daddies” shows how these two men from different backgrounds formed a friendship that was deeply affected by what was going to happen to Lucky when Giovanni had to be separated from the cat. These experiences moved Alese so much, he eventually became a cat daddy, to a female tabby named Pez.

Jordan Lide is a firefighter at Belmont Fire Department in Greenville, South Carolina. Lide and his co-workers help take care of an orange-and-white cat named Flame the Arson Cat, who wandered into the fire station one day as a stray, malnourished cat, and charmed the employees there into keeping him. In the documentary, Lide describes himself as the main person who convinced his boss to let the cat live at the fire station, even though having a cat in this workplace was against the rules at the time. Flame has made himself at home and has fit right in with the unpredictability of working at a fire station. Lide says Flame has never gotten in the way when the fire trucks have to suddenly leave and enter the building for emergencies.

David Durst is a truck driver who lives in Florida but travels all over the United States with his beloved feline Flora the Trucker Cat, who is a tan tabby who appears to be a Persian mix. Durst says that dogs are the most popular pets that truckers bring on the road, but he states that cat pets are more common on truck-driving excursions than most people think they are. (He also mentions that birds and reptiles are occasional pet companions for truckers too.) Flora is an unusual domesticated cat who likes activities on all sorts of rugged terrain outdoors, such as climbing on cliffs and trekking through snow-covered land. Durst is shown in the documentary on adventure trips with Flora and his girlfriend Destiny Rolfe, including some gorgeous scenes in the Arizona wilderness of Flagstaff and Sedona.

Will Zweigart is the founder of the Brooklyn, New York-based non-profit group Flatbush Cats, whose specialty is spaying and neutering stray cats to help reduce the homeless cat epidemic in Brooklyn. Feral cats that are too wild or too “unsocialized” to be adopted go through a humane “trap, neuter, return” (TNR) process, while the stray cats that are adoptable are placed in foster care or permanent homes. Zweigart (who’s a cat daddy to two cats named Teddy and Franny) says the biggest challenge for Flatbush Cats is fundraising, and this is the most important lesson he’s learned about getting money for a non-profit: “You have to document your work … We committed to social media early on.”

Ryan Robertson is a stunt performer in Atlanta who thought he would never live with a cat because he never had pets as a child, since his mother was afraid of animals. “I shared her fear,” he confesses. That all changed when he met a male cat named Toodles, a brown Maine Coon who weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Robertson got Toodles at a PetSmart adoption event. He also credits Toodles with helping him court the woman who would become Robertson’s girlfriend: fitness trainer Megan Dovell, who adores cats and is also featured in the documentary.

Peter Mares (a schoolteacher in Dana Point, California) has a black-and-white female cat named Keys, who has become a minor social media celebrity nicknamed GoalKitty. It all started when Mares noticed that Keys likes to stand on her hind legs and raise her front legs, thereby looking like a human soccer goalie holding her hands straight up in the air. He took some photos of her in this standing position, some of the photos went viral, and the rest is history. He sells GoalKitty merchandise and makes personal appearances with her, with some people traveling hundreds of miles just to meet her. Just like many of the men featured in the documentary, Mares says his love life improved because he found a partner who loves cats too.

Of course, any documentary called “Cat Daddies” has plenty of adorable cat footage, which is aided by engaging cinematography by Rob E. Bennett and very good editing by Hoang and Dave Boyle. Hoang and Boyle are also the producers of “Cat Daddies,” which is clearly a project that is a labor of love that can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates how pet animals are often ideal companions through good times and bad times.

“Cat Daddies” has some commentary about the myth that only women are supposed to like cats the most. Carson Couch, a firefighter at Belmont Fire Department in Greenville, describes how Flame affected the men who work in the fire department: “A lot of the guys here have only had dogs. Flame changed their perception of cats. He’s personable and lovable.” All of the men interviewed in the documentary say some version of the truth that a lot of men have always liked cats. But over time, it’s become more socially acceptable for men to publicly admit it, because liking cats isn’t supposed to be limited to one particular human gender.

Zweigart, who is the only one in the group of interviewees who has a job completely devoted to cats, started Flatbush Cats when he worked in advertising. He has since left his advertising job to focus on Flatbush Cats full-time. Zweigart says Flatbush Cats’ next big goal is to open a low-cost clinic in Brooklyn that will offer a variety of medical services for cats but will primarily be focused on spaying and neutering.

At a Q&A after a “Cat Daddies” screening during the movie’s opening weekend in New York City, Hoang was in attendance with several of the documentary’s filmmaking team and interview subjects, including Bennett, Giovanni, Alese, Zweigart, Judkins and Lede. Zweigart gave an update on the planned Flatbush Cats clinic, by saying that he signed a 10-year-lease on a space for the clinic, and the group has a goal to raise $1.5 million in start-up funds for the clinic, which will also be involved in adoptions and foster care for pets. (Dogs will also be treated at the clinic.)

Lucky’s bittersweet journey with Giovanni is chronicled in the documentary. Full details won’t be revealed in this review. However, it’s enough to say that, as of this writing, Lucky is still in Giovanni’s life, but in a different way than when the “Cat Daddies” documentary began filming them.

“Cat Daddies” isn’t just a movie about men gushing over their cats. The documentary shows, through actions and the men’s own words, how living with cats taught them how to become more patient and more open-minded. Cats by nature are known for being more independent than most other domesticated pets, but this independence also means that someone who lives with a cat has to earn the cat’s trust. Once that trust is earned, as “Cat Daddies” shows so terrifically, it can turn into a beautiful and loving friendship where the cat becomes a member of the family.

Sky Island Films released “Cat Daddies” in New York City on October 14, 2022, with an expansion to cinemas in more U.S. cities, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand in subsequent weeks.

Copyright 2017-2022 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX