Wednesday, January 13, 2010

MINE opens theatrical run: Hurricane Katrina's animal survivors have their day

Geralyn Pezanoski's fine new documentary MINE is all about what happened to the household pets -- mostly dogs -- during, after and even long after Hurricane Katrina. While the during and after sections are fairly expected, though Ms Pezanoski's mind, heart and camera, still manage to catch the odd and affecting moment, it's the "long after" section -- the film's lengthiest -- during which Mine really rivets.

Why did the Katrina evacuees leave their pets? was a much-asked question, post-hurricane. They had to; they were given no choice. Rescue workers told evacuees that they could not take their pets; nor would evacuation centers allows animals on premises. To another question as to why so many more dogs than cats were rescued, one succinct young rescuer explains, "Cats don't bark." Ms Pezanoski's film (the director is shown at left) will appeal more to animal people than to the non-so.  One reviewer has already pitted Katrina's total of dead animals against dead humans to find the film wanting. You can play that game, of course, but this is an attitude that simply (and rather obtusely) misses the point: The movie is meant to be about the part that pets played in this disaster and how important they proved to their owners. (In any case, Ms Pezanoski addresses the human vs animal question early on and then moves forward to focus on her real concerns.)

Mine deals very well with the nitty-gritty of post-disaster animal rescue -- not just the "saving" of the beast, but what to do next: vaccinations, vet check-ups for heartworm and the like. Just as the rescuers felt they were making some progress, Hurricane Rita appeared and undid a lot of what had been accomplished.  The real problem, once an animal has been rescued, is finding the pet's original owner, and when that proves not possible, adopting it out.  It's here that the film begins to fascinate.

What happens when, after pet adoptions have occurred, origi-
nal owners show up and want their ani-
mals back?  (Now you see how appropriate is the film's one-word title.)  Pezanoski follows closely five different missing pets, along with their origi-
nal and new owners, watching carefully how the scenarios play out.  Each, differ-
ent and surprising, will probably force you into considering how you might feel and act, had some disaster separated you from your pet.  One thing I have learned over the years, as a owner of both dogs and cats, is that animals are loyal to whomever takes care of them.  If necessity forced a pet of mine to be relocated to a new owner, and the pet and its new owners had bonded, I believe I would be happy to let it go -- and then adopt a new pet from a shelter.

That, however, is not the case with the pet owners we see here. Desperate to have their animals back, they try everything -- and then try it again.  Class and race enter the picture, too, as does the idea of an animal as a piece of private property. Listen to the scary phone tirade by one man against the Katrina victims who "abandoned" their animals.  And yet, in some cases, what he says was true: the pit bulls, badly scarred, but now saved from a short life of constant dog-fighting. 

Each of the five cases we follow must be taken on its own basis, and I suspect you'll have mixed feelings about what happens and why.  If you're a pet owner, you'll watch with growing interest; if you're not, there's still plenty here to make you sit up and consider.

Mine -- released by Film Movement, opens Friday, January 15 in New York City at the Cinema Village.  Further playdates -- theaters and cities -- can be found here (click and scroll down). Note: the film opens in New Orleans on January 22, with the director present for a Q&A.  Now, that should be interesting!

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