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News: Contests
Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Favorite Shelter or Rescue
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
As the Bowl Turns

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
Britain's Purebred Dog Controversy

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.

Culture: Reviews
The Cave of the Yellow Dog
The Bark editors' pick for must-see film paints an intimate story on a wide canvas.
Nansal and Zochor

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.

Culture: Reviews
Movie Review: Sweetgrass
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.

Culture: Reviews
Celebrating Photobooth Dogs
Photobooth Dogs

Photobooth Dogs is a one-of-a-kind collection celebrating the age-old bond between dogs and their people. Featuring happy and beloved pets in more than 100 portraits taken in photobooths over the last 80 years, these images are a testament to the devotion people have felt—and will always feel—for their dogs. Photobooth Dogs is published by Chronicle Books with an October 1, 2010 release date.

These vintage rarities are collected by Cameron Woo, co-founder and creative director of The Bark, the magazine of dog culture and purveyor of exquisite canine art. The majority of the photographs that appear in Photobooth Dogs are part of Woo’s personal collection. This sub-genre of vernacular photography was amassed from hours of culling through thousands of photobooth pictures, at flea markets, antique stores and online vendors. An invitation to Bark readers and collectors drew a handful of gems, including a three-frame strip showing photobooth inventor Anatol Josepho cradling his terrier (c. 1928) from the International Centre of Photography.

The photographs offer deeply personal self-portraits, a collaboration between machine and the sitter (human or canine)—and the unseen element of chance. The first Photomaton machines appeared in 1925, and for the first time in history, mechanical photobooths offered the masses an inexpensive and high-quality method for portraiture. Crowds lined up to pay their 25 cents and have their picture taken. As photobooth pictures soon became the favored tribute to love and friendship, it’s no wonder that beloved dogs began to show up in the earliest strips.

To purchase a copy of Photobooth Dogs or for retail queries, go to: ChronicleBooks.com
For all media queries please contact Cameron Woo.

Culture: Reviews
Victoria Stilwell Takes Charge
The canine supernanny

She likes to drive black convertible sports cars decked out in a black outfit and wearing driving gloves. She talks to the camera in a stern tone while shifting gears. And even though she was probably the best thing about The Great American Dog Show (which I stopped watching halfway through the season because I couldn’t figure out how being unafraid of an elephant would be an indicator of a dog’s greatness), I thought less of her for participating. So why would I want to watch Victoria Stilwell train dogs?

Well, it turns out, because she’s very good at it. It’s Me or the Dog was a successful half-hour show in the UK before it came over here to Animal Planet and was extended to an hour. I’ve watched both, and the longer format serves the show and Stilwell much better than the shorter version. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that her methods are not nearly as harsh as she likes to appear and, indeed, Stilwell knows her stuff. From “bite inhibition” to “desensitization” to “stress signals,” she clearly understands a dog’s mind and is determined to stick to positive methods no matter the issue.

These kinds of shows tend to be deceptive because they must be manipulated to entertain, and training is not usually entertaining (it is to me, but I’m weird)—things are speeded up with strategic editing, which ends up making training a dog seem like an easy task. But this show, which focuses on a household’s problems with its dog(s), works hard to stress the effort involved, and often illustrates how long it can take to teach a dog to respond.

For example, in one episode, a Toy Poodle with an attitude was terrorizing the man of the house. When he tried to get in bed with his wife, the dog—who was on the bed—would growl at him. Stilwell recommends that the dog be promptly put on the floor every time she growls. The husband walked into the bedroom over a dozen times (they actually counted it down) and each time he approached the bed and the dog growled, the wife (who was holding the pooch) set her on the floor. Finally the dog got the message and, voila, she stopped. Stilwell’s advice worked, and what a great feeling of accomplishment you shared with that family when it did. Stilwell also convinces a naïve single mom who bought a Mastiff mix for protection to neuter the dog when the mom admits she’d like to breed him because “he’s pretty and he’d make a good daddy.” I don’t know how Stilwell keeps from screaming at these owners sometimes … oh, yeah, sometimes she screams at the owners. Not sure what’s with the car and gloves, but, hey, they look good.
 

Culture: Reviews
Belmondo’s New Film
Legendary Jean-Paul Belmondo bonds with his canine co-star

It’s a wintry late afternoon in Paris and the l’homme de la fourerer (the dog catcher), is screaming. “Everybody wants a dog for the holiday! Or for their children’s pleasure. Merde! [Shit] They are not toys! Merde! They are not toys! Nobody pays attention to anything. In what shitworld do we live? And after, what? It’s us who have to get the dog. She is beautiful, non, humanity? Me, I don’t believe anymore in humans. It’s finished!”

And there you have it: Un Homme et Son Chien, a dark film about loss, disillusionment, age and loneliness and one bright light in an old man’s heart: his love for his dog. In what’s said to be Jean-Paul Belmondo’s final film, the French movie icon best known for his rakish gangster roles and jaunty seduction of the world’s great beauties plays a man with the emotional and physical frailties of his own real age. A few years ago, Belmondo, now 75, suffered a massive stroke, as does his character Charles, and ironically also lost his dog in Paris.“It’s me without any special effects,” he said in the interview he granted to his old friend, TV host Michel Drucker. In real life, the veteran of more than 80 films made a dramatic recovery, found his dog and took a dazzlingly young Italian mistress. In Un Homme et Son Chien, we find an alternate reality.

“Charles,”Belmondo said,“could be any man.”

Widowed and fragile, Charles and Mon Chien (“my dog”) live in his ex-mistress’s magnificent Parisian apartment, until the arrangement feels “inconvenient” to the woman and she throws him out. That day, he is felled by a stroke and hospitalized. Mon Chien is cared for by the ex-mistress’s kind servant (the stunning Hafsia Herzi). When Charles returns to claim his dog, he learns that a handyman let Mon Chien loose on the streets of Paris. In one especially poignant scene, a bereft Charles cries out “Mon Chien!” in the gilded ballroom of the Hotel Intercontinental in Paris. The anguished old man, still immaculately dressed, is told to leave.

Miraculously, Mon Chien is found in the city pound on that winter day. But Charles’s health is failing and his resources are diminished. Racing against his own mortality, he is determined to find a loving home for Mon Chien. The young servant is the most obvious choice, but when she turns up pregnant, Charles knows there is no place for Mon Chien with her. The two begin their journey through Paris and its stratified society. An elegant high heel clicks a door shut in Charles’s face. An old friend glibly chats about Mon Chien but fails to acknowledge Charles’s straits and leaves without looking back. A middle-aged woman rails against Mon Chien, blaming her own dog for her husband’s infidelity.A homeless man at a Restaurant du Coeur, a soup kitchen, tells Charles, “The state took everything from me, everything, even my dog.”

Just as we think it can’t get bleaker, there is a sliver of hope. Mon Chien runs to a young black family sitting at a café, and they seem enchanted by the little dog. Charles is convinced that Mon Chien has found a good home. As the movie nears its close, we see Charles standing on the railroad tracks in Paris; for him, suicide is more noble than dying on the street. Through a tunnel a train hurtles toward him, when suddenly, Mon Chien reappears, barking furiously.

Though Un Homme et Son Chien is said to be a remake of Vittorio De Sica’s 1952 neorealistic Umberto D, the current film—directed by Francis Huster, who also makes a cameo appearance—speaks more to the human condition than it does to post-war isolation. The sober movie outraged much of the French press, which does not like to see its sexy icons age onscreen. “What’s Left of Belmondo?” the weekly magazine Le Point asked. “One can only be staggered by this portrayal of decrepitude and this disillusioned universe where the only point of interest is …a dog.”

As the film comes to a close, the audience in the little movie house in Saint Remy-de-Provence—a chic French village filled with hôtels particuliers, many converted into museums or art galleries— is silent as the credits run, but as they leave, they are abuzz with questions: What happened? What does it mean? Is the ending happy or sad? What happens next?

To me, the conclusion is evident. Charles chooses fidelity over loss, love over disillusionment. In the end, Charles and Mon Chien are together, and that is all we need to know.
 

Culture: Reviews
Pixar’s Up
The new animated film is brimming with dogs

When cranky old Carl Fredricksen a widower and former balloon salesman, lifts his house with a thousand helium-filled balloons and soars off on a long-anticipated quest, the last thing on his mind is a kid or a dog. So, that’s exactly what directors Pete Docter and  Bob Peterson give him in Up, Pixar Animation Studio’s latest feature film. 

“When Carl goes on his adventure, we give him a new family,” Peterson says. “A grandchild, essentially, and a dog. Because everyone has to have a dog.”

Carl and his stowaway, eight-year-old Russell, meet the Golden Retriever/Lab mix in a South American jungle. When the dog, tongue hanging out, tail wagging, jumps up on Carl, we hear, “Hi there. My name is Dug. My master made me this collar so that I may talk.” Dug suddenly whips his head to the left, says “Squirrel!” and freezes for a beat before turning back to Carl, who is not amused.

Three other dogs star alongside Dug in Up: Alpha, a Doberman, who leads the pack of hunting dogs; Beta, a Rottweiler; and Gamma, an English Bulldog. They are all caricatures, of course, but they act more like canines than cartoons.

“Dogs are so smart and emotional,” Peterson says. “They really do talk to you, but you still want to know what they’re thinking. It was our fantasy to put their thoughts on the screen and keep their natural dog behavior.”

Since having dogs lip-synching to human dialogue is hardly natural, the thought-translating collar gave Pixar the best of both worlds. “We could have a dog yelling while scratching his ear,” Peterson says. “And that dichotomy is funny.”

To help the artists and animators dig into dog and pack behavior, Pixar brought in behaviorist Ian Dunbar. “He gave us great knowledge about how dogs communicate and give signals,” Peterson says.

But the squirrel gag comes from Peterson’s own dogs; that is, from a game he plays with his German Shepherd and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. “They’re sitting around, relaxed and panting,” he says. “I sit next to them and pant with them. And then I suddenly stop and look in another direction and they do, too. When I relax, they relax with me. Then we do it again. Dogs have great senses of humor.”

So, did Peterson’s Dug wag a smile out of cranky Carl? No spoilers, but we will say we wish a tail-wagging dog could adopt every grumpy old guy.
 

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