Pick of the Litter

PICK OF THE LITTER. US, 2018. Directed by Don Hardy Jr, Dana Nachman. 81 minutes. Rated G.

Yes, they have used the pun for promotion, Dogumentary!

This documentary lives up to its title which explains fairly exactly what it is about. Screenings of the film around Australia have been sponsored by organisations for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

This is a film which most dog-lovers probably could not resist. Those who are not dog-lovers will appreciate how significant it is for the selected dogs to be nurtured and trained so that they will be able to enhance the lives of those who cannot see or who cannot see well. The dogs will enable them to rely less on canes and more on the instincts and behaviour of the dogs and to save them from accidents and danger.

The structure of the film is very straightforward. It focuses on five puppies, their being born, helped by the experts in their initial moments, nurtured by their mother, ready to go into a program that will lead some of them (not all of them – and that provides a bit of dramatic tension throughout the film as to which of the five will succeed in being guide dogs or will have on their profile the rather whitewashing term “career-changed”) to guiding the blind.

So, the dogs are named, three males, two females. Much is made of the energy in two of the males, Phil and Patriot. As a device to focus the attention of the audience, following the two dogs, maybe liking one better than the other, hoping for one to succeed over the other (or, perhaps even-handedly, hoping that both will succeed). And there are two female dogs also in training.

We meet quite a number of adults along the way, the initial trainers who inculcate the basics for the dogs, accompanying them with great attention and care. One or other of the dogs proves to be too playful, not having that innate sense of responsibility that will lead them to be a guide.

And then the dogs are moved into more careful training, the types of experience that will help them with their carers, alert them to oncoming vehicles, enable them to turn right or left at the correct time and place…

In the meantime, the film also focuses on some of the adults who have been waiting for a guide dog for some time and will be eligible once the pick or picks of the litter are trained.

There is of course some tension, in the final tests, not every dog measuring up – and one or other of the dogs having to walk the exam again.

Needless to say, there are some delights for the audience having the opportunity to watch the incapacitated adults to meet their dogs, scenes showing how they get used to the dogs, walking with them, and the exhilaration of the blind to find opportunities for having a freer, more open life.

Madman films                                 Released January 10th

Certainly a case of worthy documentary-making.

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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