Friday, July 24, 2009

An American Opera review

Last night was the premiere showing of "An American Opera - The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever" at the Bloor Cinema. The film documents the Katrina experience from the vantage point of dog rescuer/film maker Tom McPhee who was himself there at the showing.

When Katrina hit back in 2005, my time at Toronto Animal Services hadn't started yet and I wasn't really tuned into the dog rescue community so the whole episode with what was going on with the abandoned pets down there almost totally escaped me. It was only a couple of years later that I began to hear, in dribs and drabs, just how enormous a rescue operation it was.

Tens of thousands of pets, with some estimates going up to a quarter million, were left homeless and had to fend for themselves after their owners were evacuated after the storm. In many of the cases, pet owners were forced to leave their pets behind by the rescuing authorities with promises that someone would be by later to pick them up. That didn't happen, at least not in any cohesive organized way, and thousands of animals who survived the initial flooding, later died from starvation or disease or were randomly shot by people.

The movie sheds some light on the whole thing with inciteful interviews which reveal the personalities and politics which drove the events. The most moving segment, which caused several people in the audience to start audibly sobbing, showed the reunion of a grizzly looking middle aged man and his dog. At first they just meet and it's obvious the man is happy but then he slowly loses his composure and emotion washes over his face and he sheds a tear and then just starts crying with happiness at being reunited with his dog.

This sequence followed a much darker segment on the St. Bernard Parish dog massacres allegedly carried out by members of the police force. It includes video shot by journalist David Leeson:

The original video, fully shown in the movie, is much more graphic. After the car window is rolled down, the video shows the dog which has just been shot, crying and tremoring as it dies.

Gasps and sobs from the audience.

It's pretty obvious given the admission on camera by one of the alleged killers just who was guilty but apparently the good ol' boys who run Louisianna's law enforcement agencies don't reckon it's such a big deal to go around using dogs for target practice as all charges against the deputies have been dropped due to there being "not a lick of evidence".

I liked the movie well enough but I think it could have had a greater impact and a much wider audience if it had better editing and writing (yes, even documentaries need writing) and higher production values. As it is, it's an informative piece for the dog rescue community but I'm not sure how much general appeal it will have.

The show "Nature" on PBS produced an episode a while ago about the Katrina dog rescue work and I haven't seen it but the segments posted online look promising.

Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), an organization created for and dedicated to the rescue and aid of abandoned and homeless animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues to work for animals in New Orleans.


Lynn said...

A Message for Sgt. Minton, of St. Bernard (ironic) Parish: I'm sorry your penis is so small that you have to assert your manhood by shooting people's pets. Just FYI, they have pills for that now.

Social Mange said...

Hey, Fred, didn't know you were there. I thought it was very good and support the film maker fully, since very little has come out (been allowed out?) about the rescue. I still loathe Wayne Pacelle and remember the stories at the time about how HSUS showed up with nothing, nada of supplies and commandeered another rescue's boat to do a media show. The politics were fascinating and appalling; the three major groups who could have really done something, did a sit-back (ooh, let's be collaborative) and instead of taking charge, just let animals die while they were being "collaborative". Didn't people shoot collaborators in WWII?

Fred said...

Yeah, I had to make a quick exit afterwords to get back and feed the dogs (and myself) otherwise I would've hung around a bit longer after the movie.

It was quite surprising that none of the major animal welfare groups took a leading role in coordinating the Katrina rescue. I'm not sure what Pacelle meant by saying he was being "collaborative" unless by collaborative he means "let someone else take the lead and figure it out". I'm just glad someone did end up stepping up to the plate and taking charge.

Anonymous said...

I saw that episode of nature. I cried the whole fifty minutes. Katrina was handled horribly all around.

Btw fred I ran Into your blog last week. I think I've read all four hundred or so posts in the last week. Keep writing I'm addicted!

-Liz, happily owned by three mutts

Fred said...

Hi Liz, welcome to the blog and thanks. Glad you're liking it.