Still from "Wicker Kittens"
Still from "Wicker Kittens"

Documentary filmmaker Amy C. Elliott is drawn to America's weirdness. Her 2010 feature debut, World's Largest, profiled small towns that built grandiose roadside attractions. Her newest work, Wicker Kittens, explores and humanizes the largely female world of competitive jigsaw-puzzling.

Wicker Kittens will debut at SXSW on March 8. 

Please give us your description of the film.

Wicker Kittens is a documentary about competitive jigsaw-puzzling. We follow four teams as they prepare for the biggest contest in the country at the St. Paul Winter Carnival. 

What drew you to this story?

Competitive jigsaw-puzzling just sounded delightful to me. I love the idea of the hyper-regulation of a leisure activity. I also assumed the folks who participated in it would be my documentary subjects. I'm drawn to people who pursue offbeat goals. My last film, World's Largest (SXSW 2010), was about small towns that built giant roadside attractions. 

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Access, which surprised me -- after all, we were making a film about jigsaw puzzling, not state secrets. But some of the subjects were afraid that they would come off as the butt of a joke. We have all seen movies that make fun of obscure subcultures. That couldn't be further from what I wanted to do, but it took a while to put everyone at ease. 

What advice do you have for other female directors?

Be comfortable with your authority. Our culture is resistant to women in powerful positions, and that is something female directors have to deal with. If you are confident inhabiting the role and the power that comes with it, you are better able to neutralize negative reactions that others may have towards you.

What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

The biggest misconception is that people think, based on the themes of my films, that they are going to be flip or kitschy. That is not my style at all. Rather, I use these quirky topics to do something more meditative. The films are funny, just not always in the way people think they will be. 

Name your favorite women directed film and why.

Smooth Talk by Joyce Chopra. I saw it when I was 14 and it remains one of my most memorable film-watching experiences. It was the first time I really identified with a protagonist -- not simply because it was an adolescent girl, but because her portrayal felt so authentic. I related to so much of what the character was dealing with, from starting to separate from her family to wanting to be able to drive. But the film didn't pander, so it didn't help me navigate those feelings. It was unsettling and ambiguous and ultimately disturbing. As desperate as I was to grow up, I already had a nagging suspicion that real life might turn out to be all those things, so that rang true most of all.

Watch a Wicker Kittens teaser: