I signed up for Film Movement last month, a film-of-the-month club for independent and foreign films. The first disc arrived last week, containing a documentary called Mine, which was the audience award winner at SXSW last year. It’s a film by Geralyn Pezanoski, a San Francisco based producer who was so moved after seeing news footage of pets stranded by hurricane Katrina, that she (along with hundreds of other animal lovers) drove straight to New Orleans and pitched in to help save them. The idea to make this film came to her later, after she noticed that many of the people who adopted animals in the wake of Katrina were unwilling to return them to their original owners. With the classic elements of conflict falling into place, she got busy directing her first feature length documentary.
This film is pretty much a classic and well-executed example of what I would call “traditional” documentary as it’s practiced today: it makes heavy use of interviews, cutaway footage, historical footage, and follows a handful of people and their pets through what happened to them before, during and after the hurricane. It looks and feels like a film made by a skilled producer who has worked her way up in the video production world and knows how to cover all the bases with efficiency, fairness and professionalism. You can’t watch this film without feeling deeply moved by the plight of helpless animals – and the people who love them.
1. Show the universal through the particular. The filmmakers found a great mix of characters through which to tell the bigger story.
2. Tell more than one story. I like how the film switches constantly between the individual stories to tell a larger, but interrelated, story. It keeps it interesting to have more than one thread going at once and be able to jump between them frequently. Nicely structured.
3. Develop the characters. Even though they live very ordinary lives, it’s impossible not to start to care about the people because we hear them talking over and over about how much they miss their dogs. You begin to understand that their pets are part of what gives their lives meaning and they get a lot of joy from the relationship in a world that otherwise can be pretty bleak.
4. Stay with it. I’m not sure how long this film took to make, but I’m guessing quite awhile, because by the end of the film, most of conflict has been resolved in a satisfying way – with the majority of the pet owners portrayed in the film getting their pets back.
Happy ending bonus: watch the dvd extras to find out what happens with the guy who was still waiting to be reunited with his dog at the end of the film.