It’s that time of year when we look back and single out our favorite pictures and words of 2017. We start with the films, television and art that made an impression and deserve a shoutout for the way they depicted dogs and the bonds we share them. Some may have been overlooked over the course of a news-heavy year but we recommend you give them a look. Next week we’ll list our favorite books of the year.
Films & Television
Based on a real-life story, the film Megan Leavey rises considerably above standard canine- and military-drama, due to an outstanding performance by Kata Mara and the steady direction of Gabriela Cowperthwaite. The first-time feature director brings a documentarian’s eye to the story of two war heroes—one human, one canine—as they struggle in their roles during military training, on the battlefield, and in civilian life (Cowperthwaite directed the 2013 documentary exposé Blackfish). Available on iTunes, YouTube and Amazon Prime.
This is an unflinching but must-see documentary on the unjust and often cruel world of dog mushing. Directed masterfully by Fern Levitt, Sled Dogs’s initial focal point is the notorious 2010 case in Whistler, British Columbia, when 53 sled dogs were executed by a recreational sled dog company. The film proceeds to take the audience on a behind-the-scenes tour of the mushing business in Canada and Colorado; and into Alaska where mushing’s signature competitive event, the Iditarod, occurs each year, with mushers and dogs racing to traverse more than 1,000 miles of terrain between Anchorage and Nome. The award-winning documentary has been released in Canadian theaters, and aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Documentary Channel. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States. Watch out for it on public television, pay-per-view cable and film festivals. Available on iTunes.
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A charming ABC summer replacement series that manages to employ one of the most abused cinematic techniques (talking dogs) into a clever, sweet rom-com. Downward Dog follows the day-to-day life of Nan (Allison Tolman), as told by her philosophical dog, Martin (a rescue named Ned, voiced by Samm Hodges). Nan attempts to juggle her tumultuous personal life with a stressful career and a self-obsessed boss. Telling her story from the canine perspective provides a uniquely unfiltered point of view that helps us laugh (and cry) about what it means to be human and canine in the 21st century. Sadly, the show lasted only 8 episodes before ABC pulled the plug on this worthy effort. Available on iTunes, Amazon Video, and streaming on ABC.com.
Worth noting: Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet and Pit Bulls and Parolees, two Animal Planet reality shows that deserve credit for providing captivating real life drama with heart. And for more on the subject of military dogs you may wish to check out War Dog: A Soldier's Best Friend (HBO).
Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry at The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC through January 21, 2018.
This landmark exhibition examines the artistic exchanges among Johannes Vermeer and his contemporaries from 17th-century’s Golden Age of Dutch painting. These exquisite, intimate paintings depicted Dutch daily life and often featured the household dog—a familiar looking Spaniel. Sixteen of the exhibition’s sixty-five paintings on display render dogs in their compositions, including works by Gabriel Metsu, Gerard ter Borch and Pieter de Hooch. The dogs are not merely decorative but act as metaphors and symbols of faith, loyalty and in one sly depiction, passion. This exhibit is not-to-be-missed!
Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest at the Oakland Museum of California
This past summer, the Oakland Museum of California presented the first full career retrospective of the artist Roy De Forest. Titled Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest, the exhibit showcased the colorful and wildly imaginative mindscapes that only De Forest could created, exotic foliage and land forms filled with airplanes, boats, mythic seekers and creatures, and many dogs. The exhibit was accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue written by the show’s curator, Susan Landauer (University of California Press), that is well worth seeking out.
Worth noting: In conjunction with the publishing of William Wegman: Being Human (Chronicle Books), came a show of rarely seen Polaroids at Sperone Westwater in New York in September. For even those well familiar with his canine portraiture, these newly discovered Polaroid images provided a special viewing experience.