10 Nov 2021

Night Ride: Filmmaker captures his mum's night time cat ritual

From Nine To Noon, 11:30 am on 10 November 2021

Since Todd Karehana's brother died 21 years ago, the Auckland filmmaker has reflected a lot on how the loss has affected his family.

When his mother Alma initially said she couldn't come to his graduation because she had to look after some stray cats, Todd wanted to understand more.

He joins Alma on her night-time missions in the short film Night Ride.

When Todd found out about Alma's devotion to the cats, he wondered if it was connected to Mitchell's death at just 11 years old.

"I could just see interesting links between her mothering these cats and her mothering me and my siblings and also Mitchell."

Mitchell, who was one year older than Todd, was a mischievous boy who loved video games, running races, trips to the shops for lollies and writing raps in his school exercise book.

Todd recalls the day Mitchell died:

"We were having a disagreement and mum separated us. I stayed outside and he had to go inside… then it was getting close to dinnertime and I had to go find him. I went looking for him and I couldn't find him.

"Then I started getting closer to the garage and I got a bit scared so I didn't go into the garage - just went back to the house and told Mum. She sent her partner at the time into the garage and he had passed away in the garage by accident."

Fluff, the cat Alma attempts to catch and rehome in Night Ride, became symbolic of his family's loss, Todd says.

"I get worried about Mum 'cause I live in Auckland and she doesn't have much whanau in Kawerau anymore. When I hear that she's out on the street late by herself I get terrified. I really want Fluff to be safe and I want Mum to be safe so helping her catch Fluff meant a lot to me.

"At times I've projected what I think my mum's feeling in her life - with Mitchell and her kids moving away. So making this film I was able to sit with her and talk to her and hear her story and hear her reasons for why she feeds these cats and loves them."

When Todd was young the family always had cats in the house, he says, and generally, he loves their calming presence.

When you're trying to film them they don't have quite the same effect, though:

"They don't run by a schedule like directors do," he laughs.

Alma, when asked why she is so committed to the cats, says it's simply because she loves them.

"Cats are funny things, they have personalities.

"I think [caring for them is] an empathy thing, it's not just particular to me."