By Jeff Siniawsky
If they came anywhere near to where I was, I was off to see them. Every night of multiple nights when they appeared where I grew up. When they traveled I’d just take off, sometimes for days (weeks) at a time to see them, and in my younger days that was a lot. Like-minded others, on the bus you might say, would join as we went from town to town, gathering night after night for the communal experience led by those we followed. One night, while walking down the street in Boston, I heard sounds created by those I followed coming from an apartment, and I knocked on the door. The stranger that answered invited me in; my recognition of the sounds serving as a secret password. Was this some strange cult? Nope, I’m a Deadhead.
So, what does that have to do with anything and why are we reviewing Searching for Katie during Adorables week? Well, Taryn Southern is cute. Everybody knows that. But what you don’t know, and we have it on very good authority, is that the real mastermind and Executive Producer behind Searching for Katie was Tiggie Southern, Taryn’s cat. Because of that, our Guest Editors insisted we watch and review. We’re their minions. We do what we’re told. So that takes care of the Adorables part. Just go with it. OK?
What does the Deadhead stuff have to do with what we’re going to talk about? Well, look at the scene that developed around the Grateful Dead. A charismatic leader with his band of high priests/shamans, devoted followers and acolytes that would follow this leader and his band from city to city; that hung on the band’s every sound, vocal and instrumental, dancing and twirling with odd gesticulations as they are carried by the sound; followers that dressed in uniforms of tie-dye and even engaged in something of a common language. Sounds kind of cult-like, yeah? But, the Grateful Dead were not leaders of some cult. The Deadheads were, and I guess still are, a community in the true Kropotkin sense of anarchy. They are individuals of varying backgrounds (ok, there does seem to be a large proportion of Jewish men from the Northeast), education, income levels, and jobs that come together for one thing, one shared interest. Something about the music brings them together. Attend enough shows and strangers recognize and greet one another, strangers no longer; an experience is shared. After the shared experience, most go back to their lives; the sharing these days is fleeting.
So, when does a community stop being just a community and become Jonestown? When does a tribe become something sinister? Filmmakers Aaron Feldman and Taryn Southern try to answer those questions in Searching for Katie.
Katie Miller was a young woman who, like so many others, came to Los Angeles to make her mark in the world. And like so many others, alone in a big city, she apparently fell in with a group, in this case one known as the Young Artist Co-Op or YAC. That is, Katie apparently fell in with them until she disappeared.
In Searching for Katie Aaron Feldman and Taryn Southern have crafted a thriller in the form of a documentary look at cults. Concerned by her sister’s disappearance, Taryn’s friend, Liz Miller, enlists Taryn (who is playing her YouTube content creator self) and Aaron to help her search for Katie by investigating the YAC in the course of filming a documentary about the organization. Everything goes along well. The group’s members are open and willing to describe the YAC and what makes it so important. What they have to say is creepy. Once Taryn begins asking about Katie, though, things change. Taryn goes from being the reporter of the story to its main focus as she works to expose the YAC as a dangerous organization.
With more than a mere nod to Blair Witch Project, Searching for Katie is a movie about making a movie. The Fourth Wall is shattered as, appropriately for a documentary, the characters talk to the audience through the camera. The actors portraying the YAC members come off as real and believable as they spout their hippie-dippie philosophical gobble-de-gook. Adding to the realism, Steven Hassan, noted expert on cults, and model/actor Hoyt Richards, who escaped a doomsday cult (with help from Fabio), are interviewed throughout the movie, adding authenticity and teaching moments to the film. The second half of the movie requires Taryn to carry the show, which she does admirably, ratcheting up the tension each step of the way.
Searching for Katie is a nice move away from YouTube for Taryn Southern. She’s a talented actress and the movie allows her to put that talent on display. Searching for Katie is not groundbreaking, but it is an interesting story that is well told. Viewers will recognize familiar tropes: threatening email from an unknown sender; having to talk to the camera surreptitiously; being watched; not going to the police; Taryn being placed in danger as a result of her investigation (which was a mainstay of just about every Rockford Files episode). The tropes are used judiciously and are important to the story. The cinematography is excellent, appropriately rough and grainy in parts, beautiful in others. Luis Goyanes’ editing displays an artistic touch and Eric Breiner’s score is fantastic and atmospheric, matching the mood of the scenes. The only negative for some people might be the cost to view. Searching for Katie can be found on Vimeo and costs $4.99 to rent for seventy-two hours. That might seem a little high for a 50 minute film, but it’s really just the cost of one venti Frappuccino. So, go ahead have that Frappuccino anyway while you kick back and take a break for an hour to watch Searching for Katie.