UK grad’s film hits Sundance

Tig photo, Ashley York

By Cheyene Miller

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Documentary filmmaker Ashley York was on her way home from downtown Los Angeles on a Wednesday afternoon in November when she received a phone call.

“(It was) that call you always hear folks talk about, where they tell you that your movie is going to premiere at one of the most famous film festivals in the world,” York wrote in an email to the Kentucky Kernel.

The call was from a senior film programmer named David Courier, who invited York to premiere her documentary film “Tig” at the Sundance Film Festival.

York’s journey in film began as an undergraduate student at UK, where she saw the documentary “Harlan County, USA” in a sociology class. It was then, she wrote, that York knew she wanted to tell stories about unique individuals on the big screen.

“Seeing that film was an ‘aha’ moment because it was the first time I saw the people of east Kentucky be portrayed in a way that was nuanced and complex,” York wrote in the email.

York, who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2002 after editing at the Kentucky Kernel, noted that she is drawn to nonfiction and documentary stories and said that we are currently in the middle of a “grand renaissance of documentary storytelling.”

“Since I began writing as a young journalist at UK, I have been intrigued by stories about marginalized and vulnerable people and communities,” York wrote.

“Tig” tells the story of stand up comedian Tig Notaro, with whom York first became familiar when Notaro delivered a popular stand up routine about pop star Taylor Dayne in 2012.

“That was my first time experiencing her storytelling, which was so unique and unlike any comedy performance I had ever experienced,” York wrote.

She added that producer Kristina Goolsby contacted her about doing a documentary about Notaro. “Without hesitation, I said, ‘Yes, you bet, let’s do it,’” she ­wrote.

York wrote that going into the filming process, Notaro and York both knew that the film would focus on a series of tragic events in Notaro’s life that took place over a four-month period.

“(Notaro) was diagnosed with bi-lateral stage II breast cancer,” York wrote.

A day after Notaro’s diagnosis, she delivered a performance in Los Angles, which she began by saying, “Good evening, hello, I have cancer.”

According to York, Notaro’s diagnosis was preceded by a serious bout with pneumonia, an intestinal disease and the unexpected death of her mother.

Notaro hosted the Sundance Film Festival award ceremony, which was held from Jan. 22 through Feb. 1.

“The crazy thing with the documentary is I agreed to do it assuming they were going to be capturing an awesome ride in life,” Notaro said in an interview with ABC News. “And they caught awesome moments, but they also caught really devastating moments and I just was not prepared for that. But it’s something I wanted to do wholeheartedly.”

York wrote that interviewing and connecting with individuals is a privilege of her work.

“Once we started filming, we let the story guide us,” York wrote. “We wanted to spend as much time documenting her journey as possible and had an incredible opportunity to be with someone who had just gone through some of the most devastating events that can happen in a person’s life.”