A Princeton, Illinois, native who now lives in Chicago, Samantha Martin is proof positive that sticking with your passion and becoming the best at what you do—no matter how seemingly strange it is—can result in success.
In director Jason Feiring’s documentary Samantha’s Amazing Acrocats, we meet Martin at just about every phase and high and low point in her life as an animal trainer specializing in felines, whom she performs with in a wonderful circus-type act across the country. But she’s also dealing with sick parents, sick animals, and an assistant who seems on the verge of leaving a great deal of the time.
The filmmaker followed Martin for more than five years as she drove from gig to gig in her RV/animal sanctuary, barely able to make ends meet, while still finding the strength, enthusiasm and compassion to spread the word about rescue animals. She doesn’t hide the fact that the full-time job of cat care, training and doing shows doesn’t leave her much time for a personal life (especially dating), and the one man we do see her with at one point, she cuts loose because he bores her.
Director Feiring keeps us fully invested in Martin’s successes and failures, including a surge in popularity after an Animal Planet show features her prominently. But we also get a glimpse at a show where just about everything goes wrong, a fact she blames on her own anxiety about the future of the act, which she believes the cats can sense and react negatively.
Still, even in that situation, the laid-back nature of the Acrocats show makes Martin able to roll with the failed tricks and runaway kitties. When the act is firing on all cylinders, it’s a spectacular show, and it’s clear that the cat-loving audience is having the time of their lives.
There’s something inherently watchable, charming and wholly entertaining about this hour-long work. Feiring takes something of a homespun approach to his filmmaking that matches his subject’s style of working her audience and piecing together her show. There’s such a sweet and unbreakable quality to Martin, even when we see her in her toughest times, and there are certainly one or two moments in Samantha’s Amazing Acrocats that are full-on inspirational.
The film screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, Feb. 9, at 8:15pm, and Saturday, Feb. 10, at 3pm. Director Jacob Feiring is scheduled to appear for audience discussion after both showings, with yours truly moderating the Friday Q&A.