What about the dogs?
After the levees broke and flooded New Orelans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, "leaving 80 percent of the city submerged, tens of thousands of victims clinging to rooftops, and hundreds of thousands scattered to shelters around the country," to quote The Times-Picayune, some concerned onlookers began to wonder about the animals left behind. Many residents fleeing the city for what they thought would be a day or two returned home much later than expected, to find that their beloved pets were gone. Where did the animals go? And why were they left behind in the first place?
Even if you're not a dog lover or a pet owner, MINE, a new film by Geralyn Pezanoski that had its World Premiere at SXSW -- and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature -- may churn your emotions. It takes a good while before the film really sparks; MINE requires a fair degree of patience as it establishes the circumstances of various New Orleans residents. But once the true essence of the story becomes apparent, it's difficult to turn away from the screen.
The heart of the documentary lies in the conflict between pet lovers. The first group is made up of the residents, people like 86-year-old Malvin, who had to take refuge in the Super Dome, where pets were not allowed; Jesse, a family man and homeless advocate, who didn't realize he wouldn't be able to return to New Orelans for months; and 70-year-old Gloria, who was forcibly removed from her home and separated from her dog. They and others felt as though they'd lost a member of the family, and desperately yearned to be reunited with their pets.
The second group is made up of rescuers, people who came from across the country to search for animals that had been left behind. These folks gave of their own time, paid their own expenses, and dealt with unpleasant conditions. As nearby animal shelters filled up, the animals were shipped to more distant rescue shelters, and the line of ownership was broken, or at least made murky.
As the months passed, a third group emerged, animal lovers who thought they were doing a good deed by adopting pets "abandoned" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They quickly began to feel attached to their new pets. When the original owners were able to return to their homes, they also began searching for their pets, only to run into administrative roadblocks and to discover that, oftentimes, their pets had been adopted by new families -- who didn't want to give the animals back.
The deep feelings, frustrations, and conflicts appear impossible to resolve. Every group feels like it was doing the right thing, that it had no other choice but to do what they did. The motivations appear to be pure, yet it's difficult to square when one group is pitted against another.
MINE could be termed an "advocacy" documentary, in that it doesn't hide its desire to press for animal rights. It's really about resolving conflicts when competing agendas are involved. And despite how dry those subjects may sound on paper, the film succeeds because of its empathy for all parties concerned.
Especially the dogs.