News: Guest Posts
New documentary shines a little light on designer’s dogs.
Best job in the world? Pug-sitter for Valentino.
“I don’t care about the collection; my dogs are more important,” declares Valentino Garavani during one of his regular tantrums in Valentino: The Last Emperor, which opens today. (New York Times film critic Stephen Holden weighs in.) While the documentary is not a dog movie, Valentino’s pugs steal every scene in which they appear—snoozing in the designer’s bustling atelier, sprinting through the gardens of his French estate, modeling diamond-encrusted jewelry, peeing on photography equipment during a shoot, chillin' on a private jet. With just the bling nature gave them, Milton, Monty, Maude, Margot, Maggie and Molly outshine the film's jaw-dropping dresses and Hollywood beauties.
Still, I wish there’d been a little more on the silver-coated sweeties—such as an interview with the lucky guy who takes care of them (proficiently brushing their teeth among other duties) as they sniff through elegant quarters in Paris, Gstaad and Rome.
For all you Pugophiles out there, the movie is sponsoring a Most Fashionable Pug Contest.
News: Guest Posts
Paramount Pictures and Bark roll out the red carpet for the Dearborn Animal Shelter
Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter, a nonprofit shelter in Dearborn, Mich., has won our Hotel for Dogs contest. In partnership with Bark, Paramount Pictures will host a free private screening at a local movie theater for the shelter and its choice of employees, volunteers and supporters.
“I am absolutely thrilled and very proud to have won,” says Elaine Greene, executive director of Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter. “Our volunteers and supporters are the best around and they truly care about the shelter. I know many of our volunteers spend their free time at the shelter or Friends activities. This is such a wonderful way to honor their dedication. And what a great way to meet new friends and tell our story: Anytime we have a chance to promote the adoptable animals of the Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter, we are there.”
The shelter is located in Dearborn, west of Detroit, the hometown of Henry Ford. Formerly city-run with no adoption screening and cats and dogs sold for $5 each, the shelter has been stewarded by the private, nonprofit Friends since 1996. In little more than a decade, the shelter has instituted programs to find homes for 100 percent of adoptable animals and to vaccinate, spay/neuter and microchip every one. The shelter participates in dozens of community outreach programs every year including adoptions fairs, low-cost spay/neuter and a Recylc-a-Bullz program to help bully breed dogs.
The Hotel for Dogs screening comes during a tough time. “Shelter work can certainly be challenging on its own, but with the additional demands of an ailing economy, it can turn into more of a juggling act,” Greene says. “While the numbers of the homeless and strays have increased, the willingness of folks to adopt a new family member (cat or dog) has dwindled. And, as we rely on the generosity of our donors to support our work, we realize that they have felt the impact on their pocketbook, which has affected ours. At the same time, because the Friends are good stewards of our donated dollars and we will continue to provide good care and service to the animals, our supporters stay loyal to the cause.”
The priority of the shelter is finding forever-homes for “100 percent of our adoptable animals,” but the Friends also strive to provide the best temporary shelter using new and updated sheltering protocols, such as, community cat housing. The Friends are also in the middle of a capital campaign to build a new shelter that will better meet the needs of the animals and the community.
The Dearborn Animal Shelter received eight nominations, out of 143, from supporters such as MaryAnn, who wrote in her nomination: “They took in my Charlie dog when he was underfed and underloved. They made sure he got the best forever-home possible (with me)! They are the best. They also are specialists in rescuing pit bulls, a breed often thrown away as mean and vicious.” Catherine wrote: “My life has changed since I’ve volunteered there. I have adopted three beautiful animals … one poodle, Lebowski, and two cats, Marigold and Sylvia.”
Many worthy shelters, rescues and animal welfare organizations—78 in all—were entered into the contest by adoptive families, staff members and volunteers. Read the heart-felt nominations, and go direct to the source to learn more about each of these worthy organizations (listed below) and find out how you can help.
Adams County SPCA, Gettysburg, Penn.
News: Guest Posts
Spend Valentine’s Eve with Martha
At Bark, we’re fans of Martha, kid-lit heroine and newest PBS idol. What’s not to love? The nervy yellow mutt with a nonexistent waistline and alphabet soup on the brain blabs up a steady diet of funny, gaffe-rich communications (which, starting last fall, were translated from the small page to the small screen in “Martha Speaks”). While the stories are geared for children ages 4 to 7, with the goal of increasing oral vocabulary, you don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the verbal richness of this spirited dog.
Check out our interview with Martha creator, Susan Meddaugh (Bark, Sept/Oct 2008), wherein we uncover a few secrets, including how soup unleashed Martha’s gabfest.
If you haven’t tuned in to this canine wordsmith, Friday is a perfect day to share the love with a Valentine’s Day-inspired episode titled “Martha and the Thief of Hearts,” which will be the second of two episodes airing February 13. (Check your local PBS listings.)
News: Guest Posts
Hotel for Dogs species quiz
Maybe not breaking news but fun. After seeing Hotel for Dogs, I took the Quibblo quiz to answer the burning question: If I was a dog in the movie, which one would I be? Well, turns out I'm Shep--the awfully cute, type-A Border Collie. I can live with that. If you have a son, daughter, niece or nephew or know some other young fans of the film, check it out. If you have a favorite rescue group or shelter you think deserves a private theater screening of the film, there is still time to nominate them for the prize.
News: Guest Posts
Next week, when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces the Oscar short list, it’s likely the lovely, affecting Wendy and Lucy will not be included. That’s Hollywood’s loss. This sensitive and restrained portrayal of the human-animal bond, starring Michelle Williams, cuts right to the heart of it. Reviewing the film for Bark (Nov/Dec 2008), Heather Huntington wrote: “Wendy and Lucy provides a fine, powerful and emotional experience.”
We say take in all 80-moody minutes in a theater. The girl and her dog roll into Seattle, San Diego, Philadelphia, and Boston theaters next week, and then San Francisco, Berkeley (Bark’s HQ), San Jose, St. Louis and Chicago the following week. Find the complete release schedule here.
Winner of free private screening of Hotel for Dogs to be announced soon
(Update: Thanks to everyone who nominated a deserving shelter and rescue organization. It's been inspiring to hear about all the wonderful efforts to help companion animals around the country. The contest is now closed to entries. We'll announce the winner of the Hotel for Dogs screening soon.)
Thanks In the new movie Hotel for Dogs, a couple of street-smart siblings in a foster home with a strict no-pets policy hide a feisty Jack Russell Terrier in an abandoned hotel. With the help of a few friends, they are soon providing love and shelter to a motley assortment of city strays, keeping them happy, healthy and well fed with some truly ingenious inventions. (Go behind the scenes with Alysia Gray Painter in the Jan/Feb '09 issue.)
While vending machines that spit out shoes for chewers and automatic ball launchers aren’t available in most shelters or foster homes, Hotel for Dogs celebrates something very real—the heart, hard work and creativity behind every successful rescue effort. That’s what Bark loves about this movie, and why we’re thrilled to share it with folks who know all about fighting the good fight for dogs.
In partnership with Bark, Paramount Pictures is offering a free private screening of Hotel for Dogs to a shelter organization or rescue group (and its choice of employees, volunteers and supporters) at a local movie theater. From humane societies to small grass-roots networks, all are welcome. Entries should be posted as comments below, so that we can all read about these inspiring programs to help homeless companion animals.
HOW TO ENTER: Nominate your favorite shelter or rescue in 100 words or less as a comment below by February 15, 2009. No phone calls. A winning organization will be selected at random from all qualified nominations and announced on TheBark.com. Please note: Multiple entries from the same address or duplicate entries will be disqualified. Screening can be held Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, excluding holidays, in a 200-seat theater. Theater location based upon availability.
Important fine print: This film is rated PG. All federal, state and local regulations apply. A recipient of prizes assumes any and all risks related to use of prizes and accepts any restrictions required by prize provider. Paramount Pictures, Terry Hines and Associates, Bark Magazine and their affiliates accept no responsibility or liability in connection with any loss or accident incurred in connection with use of a prize. Prizes cannot be exchanged, transferred or redeemed for cash, in whole or in part. We are not responsible if, for any reason, winner is unable to use his/her prizes in whole or in part. Not responsible for lost, delayed or misdirected entries. All federal and local taxes are the responsibility of the winner. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. Participating sponsors their employees and family members and their agencies are not eligible.
News: Guest Posts
Does the world need a doggie soap opera? In the abstract, the answer is probably, sure. Why the heck not? Could it be worse than the human-centered variety? Well, based on previews for PETelenovela (pups in cowboy hats, ties and boas doing not much to campy voice-overs), I'd say, I'm not willing to spend the $10.99 to find out for sure. Also, don't our furry housemates supply enough comedy and drama?
News: Guest Posts
After years of investigation culminating in the documentary, "Pedigree Dogs Exposed," the BBC has decided not to broadcast Crufts in 2009. This is the latest blow to the Kennel Club, the purebred dog registry that hosts the world's most famous dog show. Long-time sponsor Pedigree announced earlier that it will no longer support Crufts. High-profile British charities the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust have also declined to set up information booths at this year's show.
The BBC had asked the Kennel Club for a compromise in which 14 "at-risk" breeds would not be allowed to compete in the main competitions, including "Best in Show" and group categories. The breeds range from the Basset Hound to the St. Bernard; all of them are believed to have severe health or structural issues due to improper breeding. The Kennel Club declined, claiming that it is doing its part to improve the health of all pedigree dogs. Subsequently, the BBC dropped the coverage.
It'll be interesting to see if the Kennel Club controversy affects the American Kennel Club and its prestigious National Championship dog show.
The Bark editors' pick for must-see film paints an intimate story on a wide canvas.
Across the rolling grasslands of Mongolia, a young dog gambols and sniffs. His adoptive owner, six-year-old Nansal, follows the dog on her tiny horse. In the distant background, a curtain of luminous rain cleaves the face of a mountain. It seems illuminated from within, and suggests a weightless portal into a possible heaven.
The Cave of the Yellow Dog, a new quasi-documentary from Mongolia, is the second feature by Byambasuren Davaa. The Oscar-nominated director of The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003), Davaa has a knack for creating states of enchantment on film—or rather, for capturing those states with her careful regard for landscape, animals and the spiritual relationship between humans and the physical world.
Whereas The Story of the Weeping Camel focused on its titular species to the near-exclusion of Homo sapiens, The Cave of the Yellow Dog concentrates on a nomad family in the Altai region of northwest Mongolia—father, mother, three small children—and the impact made upon them by a stray puppy.
Little Zochor (Mongolian for “Spot”) is frisky, unfettered and troublesome. He’s not unlike Nansal (played beautifully by Nansalmaa Batchuluun), an uninhibited child who discovers him in a cave while collecting the dung piles her family uses for fuel. Zochor is mostly white, with black ears, and a black muzzle with a pencil-thin white stripe down the center. Mischievous and immature, he has a mind of his own, and is more than happy to follow Nansal home.
Her father (Urjindorj Batchuluun) distrusts the dog. He’s just lost two sheep, and worries that tiny Zochor could be attached to a pack of wolves who will find his scent and eliminate more of the family’s herd. Such is the cultural shift in the Mongolian steppes—when nomads abandon their lifestyle, selling their goats and sheep and yaks and moving the city, they leave their dogs behind. The dogs then mingle with wolves, losing the lessons of domestication.
Nansal can’t accept this. “It’s not about wanting him or not,” her mother tells her. To illustrate, the mother tells Nansal to bite the palm of her hand. She can’t, of course. “Although it seems so close,” Mother says, “It’s still too far away to bite.” Lesson for Nansal: “You can’t have everything that you see.” It’s a strong argument that her parents make, but when you’re six and besotted with a dog, as only child can be, any word against that beloved animal is unbearable.
The real scene-stealer in The Cave of the Yellow Dog is the remarkable Nansalmaa Batchuluun. Davaa must have spent weeks engendering the child’s trust, so great is the sense of spontaneity and unguardedness in her scenes. In her “Director’s Notes,” included in the film’s electronic press kit, Davaa says, “I am convinced that every person has his own—often undiscovered—creativity. My task as the director was to convince my protagonists of their own creativity.”
Equally key to her job, I’d surmise, was the miracle of luck, of simply waiting for the right moments and being there with the camera when they unfolded. When Nansal plays with Zochor, her fascination and delight are so genuine that we see them vibrate throughout her body. When Nansal’s father tells her she can’t keep the dog, or tries to make her leave it behind when it’s time to break camp, the child’s pouting and desperation are heartbreaking. Is there anything more dreadful to a child—especially one whose faith is still untested by pain and loss—than separating from a beloved animal?
It’s rare to witness a child whose screen presence feels so wholly natural. When it happens—as it did with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, or Mary Badham in her scenes with Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, or Victoire Thivisol, the four-year-old French child in Ponette, or Zhou Ren-ying, the scrappy waif in the Chinese film, The King of Masks—it feels miraculous. This is one of the great joys of the movie-lover: to see a soul revealed, to witness a blending of part and actor so complete that we can’t distinguish where one emerges and the other disappears.
The “actors” playing Nansal’s family in The Cave of the Yellow Dog are in fact a nomadic Mongolian family who allowed Davaa to film them in a mixture of real and semi-staged moments. Consequently, there’s a crunch of authenticity when Mother cuts a block of cheese, milks the goat or sits at her sewing machine to make a school outfit for Nansal; when the father skins a pair of sheep, hoists the skins onto his motorcycle and drives off to sell them in the nearest town.
There’s also an ease and rhythm that draws from built-in intimacy: the puppylike, unself-conscious interplay of younger sister and brother; the patient discipline of the young, industrious mother. There’s a gorgeous moment when Nansal and her sister lie flat on the moist grass of the treeless steppes. Looking upward to the clouds, they identify shapes of animals—an elephant, a giraffe. We all have these moments in our childhood, when the natural world seems abundant with surprise. Davaa captures such a moment, and makes it so immediate that we’re carried back to our pre-analytic, pre-grown-up way of seeing.
In the middle of Cave, Nansal mounts one of the tiny Mongolian horses, her legs barely reaching the stirrups. Unsupervised by either parent, she takes the family’s herds of goats and sheep out to graze. Zochor tags along, but when he wanders off and gets lost, Nansal follows him, neglecting the herds.
At this point, Davaa dips into a fairy-tale world: As night falls and the rain pours, Nansal, reunited with her dog, hears a voice across the plains. It’s an old woman, toothless and apparently blind, whose robust, melodic call seems a vindication of her survival—an appreciation to the gods for all she receives. The woman takes in Nansal, dries her clothes and covers her, and tells the legend of the yellow dog: of a rich man’s daughter, incurable with illness, who recovers only when an unlucky yellow dog is removed from her home.
Davaa’s pacing is sensitive and her camerawork, lucid and intimate. Some of the best moments in her film involve the customs and happenstance of nomadic life. There’s a great sequence recording the family’s slow dismantling of their ger (or yurt), a collapsible structure that travels with them when they break camp. First, they remove a series of fitted felt tarps, then the khana (wooden framework) and uni (support columns), then the carpets that covered the earth and shielded the family against the cold and moisture.
The tarps are folded and loaded onto a series of yak-driven carts. Dressers, kitchenware, sewing machine, children—everything becomes part of the nomadic family caravan. I won’t divulge whether Nansal’s beloved Zochor is part of the caravan, only that the dog, in a moment of peril, finds the opportunity to prove his value to the doubting father.
The yak team pulls the wobbling carts slowly away from the camp, and in the opposite direction, a jeep races by, blaring a political slogan from a bullhorn. Once the jeep has passed, Davaa fixes this image on the screen. She lets it play out, and allows us to wonder if Nansal’s family will resist the pull of modernity, or opt for the spiritual enrichment of their ancestral way of life.
Read Cameron Woo's interview with director Byambasuren Davaa here.
Men, dogs, 3,000 sheep and 150 miles
Anointed as the “first essential movie of this young year” by the New York Times, Sweetgrass holds promise for appearance on our next decadal list. This cinéma vérité documentary, made by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, follows—and perhaps is engulfed by—a herd of 3,000 sheep as they, their shepherds and assorted dogs make their way 150 miles up into Montana’s mountains to their summer sweetgrass pasture. While most reviewers extol the visual and vocal impact of the fascinating sheep, dogs—both Border Collies and Great Pyrenees (see if you can find the dog in the photo)—also play a part. This arduous trek was one of the last made by the Allested family and, as the filmmakers note, was undertaken to “carry on tradition against all odds.” A compelling backstory to an American pastoral. We, for one, can’t wait to see it. For a schedule of showings, check out sweetgrassthemovie.com.
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