Directed by: Ellen Goosenberg Kent, Amanda Micheli, Jenny Carchman
Producers: R.J. Cutler, Julie Goldman, Allyson Luchak, Danielle Renfrew, Ellen Goosenberg Kent
Tribeca Film Festival
Running time: 73 minutes
Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
It’s difficult to say who One Nation Under Dog, which screened last week at the Tribeca Film Fest, will appeal to when it makes its debut this summer on HBO. Dog lovers, of which I include myself, will undoubtedly find it at times unbearable and those who swap over channels when they see Sarah McLachlan’s SPCA ad starting up might mistakenly do so again. However, to do so would be needlessly dismissive to an extremely well made look into the conflicting relationship this country has with man’s best friend.
In three parts derived from the doc’s subtitle, ‘Stories of Fear, Loss and Betrayal,’ directors Kent, Micheli and Carchman show the various ways in which a population so obviously in love with dogs comes to euthanize millions of them every year. ‘Fear’ gives a fascinating view at the ins and outs of how dogs, in this case a New Jersey family’s pack of Rhodesian Ridgebacks with a history of violence, come to be legally defined as ‘dangerous’, ‘potentially dangerous’ and ‘vicious.’ The distinctions sound small but they do determine whether a dog lives or dies after biting a human. ‘Loss’, arguably the most sensitive third of the film, delves into how people cope with their pets’ passing. It may surprise some to watch an adult dog-loss support group in progress, but to anyone whose lost a significant pet it’s not hard to see the benefits of such a place and the filmmakers never once look down on them. Neither is the funeral of a terrier at a pet cemetery treated with any less sincerity than that of a human friend.
It’s in the last third of the doc, ‘Betrayal’, where the film turns from the stories of individual lost pets to the outright slaughter that occurs on a daily basis for preventable reasons. Betrayal hammers home the importance of spaying or neutering pets and the merits of adopting the shelter dogs so desperately in need of homes. Some of the footage in this chapter comes with a warning about its graphic nature and it is indeed brutal to the point I felt physically unsettled but ultimately a documentary on this subject would have been incomplete without going this far.
To those who watch this documentary, you will need tissues at the ready for the obvious lost dogs but thankfully, also for the inspiring stories of dogs saved from the brink of death by the numerous rescuers who stand up for those who can not for themselves. Watching one such trainer turn some left for dead, terrified animals into loving members of new family’s was one of the most astonishing things I saw amongst Tribeca’s docs this year.
One Nation Under Dog: Stories of Fear, Loss and Betrayal premieres on HBO June 18th at 8pm