Kathleen Kiley has been a journalist for more than 20 years. She began her career on Wall Street, writing for Investment Dealers’ Digest, reporting on mergers and acquisitions and initial public offerings (IPOs). She has written for national publications such as The New York Times. She was part of the start-up team that launched an industry news site in 2000 for KPMG, positioning the global firm to incorporate digital into its strategic plan. While launching Insiders, Kathleen attended New York University’s new media program (ITP), where she became interested in interactive storytelling and documentary making. This resulted in the documentary Half a Soulja (www.halfasoulja.com). Her most recent work as a writer includes the independent film Isn’t It Delicious.
Here's the link to Isn't It Delicious:
As a writer and filmmaker, what do you see as the artist's most important role? How have you tried to fulfill that vision in your work?
Good question. I don’t consider myself an artist, but I think the role of the artist is to reflect and give voice to our times, struggles and dreams. I think that is why I became a writer--to find my own voice and give voice to issues and people that didn’t seem to have one. It hasn’t been a direct path. I started out in finance, working for Fortune 500 companies before transitioning into journalism in the 1990s. I ended up combining the two careers and it was good thing I did so I could make a living as a business journalist. I enjoy knowing what is going on in the world and how economics impacts us all. So I have this very practical, realistic side and I think this has helped me develop as a writer and a filmmaker.
As far as vision, I seem to be getting back to that. A mentor once told me it will take years to develop your voice and vision. I thought, how long could it take? As it turns out, this takes much longer than I thought, and I’m still working on it. But my vision seems to be influenced by my environment or what I seem to be absorbing.
For instance, when my mother was dying about four years ago and I was taking care of her, along with my brother, everything seemed to stop. What I mean by that is, I wasn’t running, charging around as a journalist in Manhattan and working on a documentary. I was taking care of my mother and spending lots of time with her in Connecticut, where I grew up. So I began to write about her and death and choice.
I had started writing about my family years ago, but put it on the shelf and, when my mother was winding down, I began to write again. Like many people, I grew up in utter dysfunction. I once had a friend say she was raised by a pack of wolves. Actually, they take good care of their babies and family. I just happened to be raised by Irish-American parents who did the best they could. Growing up was just utter insanity and I took this insanity and turned it into drama mixed with dark humor. The director of Isn’t It Delicious, Michael Patrick Kelly, convinced me to finish the script and so we began making it into a film, shooting the script together. He and his wife Suzanne Hayes produced the film, and real-estate investor Alfred Caiola come onboard as executive producer. Actress Kathleen Chalfant was also instrumental in making this happen. She liked the story and, as a result, Kathleen got the ball rolling.
The official description of the story is: “A fractured family of misfits finds and tries to fix themselves in this hilarious and heartbreaking story of a mother who seeks understanding.”
So let me get back to your question about fulfilling visions and the artist’s role. In this film I did have an underlying belief in the right to die and to die with dignity. It’s still a battle in this country. But after seeing my mother deal with the healthcare system and her doctor, who was clueless about her impending death, I became a great believer and supporter in the right-to-die movement. So there is a subtext in this film about this and, while it may anger some people, those who have seen the film and like it really identify with Kathleen’s character and cheer her on in her choices.
How has the current political climate affected your thinking about the arts, if at all? Has it inspired you toward any other projects? If so, what can you tell us about them?
Like many people, regardless of what political side you’re on, the current crisis has affected my thinking and what I want to write about. After my mother died and Isn’t It Delicious was being editing and distributed, I had nothing to say or write. I really didn’t care much about anything for a while. I took some time off and just worked outside, practically lived outside, working in gardens and designing gardens and landscapes. I was in state of being and I lived very simply. Then the primaries came, and here we are. Around this time, I started to think about writing again, and it's as if I am trying to find my voice for the first time. Sometimes I think there is so much stuff being said, what blah, blah, blah, do I want to add or say.
I just came back from working in North Carolina again and saw a lot of the rural part of the state, and I came away with a greater understanding of why Donald Trump won the election with voter fraud and Russia’s alleged involvement. One of the takeaways of this experience and talking with all kinds of folks was starting a project of going around the country interviewing people about their love of land and their politics.
I have also been thinking a lot about slavery, how there are many forms of that, and so I am developing some story lines around that too.
What do you see yourself doing in the future, artistically? How can we as writers, poets, artists, best come forward or step up at this time?
I think it’s time to speak out, and I think we’ve really woken up and, whether we like the political environment or not, we can at least participate. No more apathy. I am guilty of that, too. I am personally leaning toward getting more involved in local and state politics and just showing up. Maybe I will use my filmmaking or writing skills.
I think the days of thinking our politicians are going to take care of us are over. This could be good for us, although perhaps not so good for the politicians running the show now. And we should question everyone and everything now, because there is too much at stake. And certainly, for writers, poets and artists, it’s a great time to engage with social issues, to shape them and, hopefully, propel us our forward and discern between what is “fake” and what is the truth.