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World Premiere

Director: Hayley Vinson

United States, 2023, 80 min

Festival Year:2023

Category:Narrative Feature

Genres:Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Cast:Claire Pruett, Jeremy Gill

Crew:Writer: Hayley Vinson. Producers: Epiphany James, Nikki Gusse. Cinematographer: Andrew Mirmanesh; Production Designer: Kevin Lee McBee; Picture Editor: Andi Ralph


Two trauma-bonded Appalachian kids seek escape from the back country. They move to a small metropolis to drug deal, thanks to a family connect, until they can aspire to something better. When they catch the attention of the local biker gang that runs the territory, chaos ensues. Guns, drugs, violence, and a badass firecracker at the head of it: Polecat.
Looking at genuine and modern Southern characters, the complexities in Southern poverty and post-trauma, Polecat means to inspire understanding and adrenaline through every limb and organ.


About the director

Don’t let the tattoos fool you, Hayley Vinson is a terminal optimist and a total goofball. A southerner hailing from North Carolina’s “rural suburbia,” the culture of storytelling is in her blood. Growing too close to local crime tales and her mother’s Appalachian folklore, the influences melded into a sense of morbid curiosity and childlike wonder— that continue to coexist in one brain. Hayley graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts Filmmaking program after finding her eye and voice through a long history with visual art. Now settled in Los Angeles and constantly searching for a good biscuit, she's aiming to write and direct her way into your heart.

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Filmmaker's note

Polecat is special to me. Polecat's life is not mine, but I poured a lot of my youth and chaos into her on-screen experience. Something I identified growing up between the Piedmont and the Appalachia, was this “god or drugs“ choice. Some places in the South, including Winston-Salem, are some of the hardest poverty lines in the country to crawl above. While living there, I had three service jobs and a few side hustles, scratching my way out however I could-- and oftentimes it's next to impossible. God or drugs, two ways people combat this feeling in the South. Most of us start with one, and end with the other. Each makes it easy to forget the strife, the world, the tension, this feeling that the rest of the country has turned their back on you. Appalachia was one of the hardest hit regions by the Opioid epidemic.

Towns like Rutherfordton and Gilkey, where half my family still lives, became different places when mills outsourced labor in the 90s. When they left, there simply were no other jobs to find, which gave rise to both big pharma and another underground industry , both capitalizing on escape. I saw the empty mills, I saw the charred houses after unexpected explosions of the cooking inside when we visited as a kid and well through my adolescence. It gave rise to a special breed of generational trauma and seemingly hereditary drug use, something all of us are touched by one way or another.

I've had my own experience on each level of these supply chains, when I've had to make ends meet after a restaurant shuts down or tips weren't good that month. I've dated addicts, lost loved ones to overdoses, and I've muted years of my own thoughts with substances-- and it always brought me back to the helplessness we have under those two brutal lines: the poverty line and the Mason Dixon. God or drugs, pick your poison.

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