Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 Atlanta Film Festival review: STREET DOGS OF SOUTH CENTRAL

Given the title of Bill Marin's documentary Street Dogs of South Central, I was nervous as sat down for its screening at the Atlanta Film Festival.   I'm an avid animal lover, and I was afraid I was in for 90 minutes of misery; my heart breaks when I see even one dog or cat on the streets, much less whole packs of them.   But the makers of this unique twist on the nature film know theirs is a sensitive subject, and so they handle it gingerly.   The film, narrated by Queen Latifah, focuses in on two sets of dogs: a Black lab called Elsie, who sees her litter of four puppies dwindle to two as she teaches them to navigate the brutal Los Angeles streets; and a couple of pit bulls called Jack and Jill (the film informs us that pit bulls are the most common strays in South Central as many people choose them to be fighters and guard dogs, but are disappointed when they often turn out to be docile--this is a factoid that tells a lot about this rough neighborhood).   The movie, picked up by Animal Planet and Lion's Gate, doesn't exactly shy away from the harsh lives these animals lead; particularly disturbing are any scenes where a dog is seen trying to make its way across a busy motorway (this is a sight that, in real life, can always send me into a tizzy), and a long sequence in which Elsie, deep in heat, is pursued for long hours by scads of amorous, snarling alpha dogs (these scenes hammer home the key need for animals to be spayed and neutered).

But amidst examinations of their foraging and survival, Merin and his team are careful to include moments of joy shared by their subjects as they play and snuggle together.  Yes, somehow there are such scenes of happiness.   Also, smartly, the filmmakers avoid showing scenes of outright horror; there are no dead dogs or crushing scenes of pound life here (though the threat of death quite obviously hangs over these animals every minute of the day).  Street Dogs of South Central suffers from its overdone wall-to-wall scoring, which marks it squarely as television product.  However, the narration, while also a bit incessant, is well-written and delivered with passion, and the film is photographed superbly.  Moreover, its mission--to remind people that there are 30,000 dogs like this in every major city, and that it's a problem that needs further concern from all humans--is a sound one.  This is an intrepid work that deserves to be seen, and debated.

Courtesy of my photographer/editor Rich Gedney, here's my interview with the producer Vincent Ueber and director/co-photographer Bill Marin, done at the closing night party of the 2012 Atlanta Film Festival.  This interview is followed by a short preview of the movie.


Anonymous said...

I want to express my displeasure and anger at the producers and creators of the documentary "Street Dogs of South Central," which aired on the Animal Planet Channel on February 11th. While the concept of filming the heartbreaking conditions that exist for these poor creatures for the purpose of documenting their plight might seem to be a good idea on the surface, the reality is that the filmmakers stood by and did not attempt to intervene when these stray dogs were in danger of being severely injured or killed. The sight of the two pit bulls actually being hit by cars was one of the most horrific things that my wife and I have ever seen; the one animal actually sustained a horrendous leg injury that resulted in the amputation of the limb. To allow a living creature to needlessly suffer for "journalism" is asinine, and for Discovery Communications to allow such a program to be aired on one of its networks is unconscionable. When I look back at the type of educational programs that aired on The Learning Channel and The Discovery Channel at the inception of these networks in the 1980's, and compare them to the sensationalistic, voyeuristic, sadistic, and borderline-idiotic shows that now pass for "intelligent" viewing, I count my blessings that I was once able to benefit from quality television programs that did not diminish my intellect or harden my heart. I will never watch another program on one of your channels, and I intend to pass this information on to as many social and media outlets as I can. Because of television networks like yours, the dystopian dark comedy "Idiocracy" now seems like a prescient documentary of what the future holds for our doomed society. Nice job.

Dean Treadway said...

I know that the producers of the film would want you to know that, while in production, they did everything they could to help dogs that were in distress on the streets--they were the ones that called the authorities after these dogs got hit. It's a controversial issue, I know, but the point of the documentary is to stir up concern for these street-bound animals, and they have to do that by documenting the horrendous (and not always horrendous) lives they lead. Their goal is to make us more responsible towards the animals we've domesticated. I know they took their mission and completed it with the utmost care towards their subject matter. By the way, would have been nice to get a comment that WASN'T just a cut-and-paste of some crank letter meant for the programmers of Animal Planet. You do know, I have nothing to do with the organization, right?

RichVoyages said...

I met these guys while filming this short interview. They had the best intentions in filming this documentary. Plus if you go to their Facebook page you will see that they are still committed to helping the dogs that were in the film plus helping other animal shelters and street dogs throughout the greater Los Angeles area. I've lived in LA was born their as a mater of fact.It's a rough place, hard for humans to live let alone animals. These guys did a great job showing the plight of the street dog. I think more people should watch this film not less.