Monday, March 31, 2008

Dog Years, A Short Film

How do you tell a dog’s story?

"Dog Years," a short film written by Richard Penfold and directed by Sam Hearn, features the monologue of a mutt named Ben played over shots of him and his owner on the beach. Captured on one roll of super 8mm film stock, the method in which the film was shot gives it the essence of a nostalgic home movie. The film has charmed audiences at multiple film festivals, and amassed plenty of praise from Internet viewers. Many dog owners recognize Ben's story as that of their own dog.

It's hard not to view dogs as having a voice, even if they can't speak. As a dog person, I'm not embarrassed to admit that I talk to my dogs. Often. Hey, at least they don't talk back, right? That would be a sure sign of crazy. Well... it took my mother speaking responses for them to make me realize that in some way, I do imagine what they might say to me.

Wait. It's not as crazy as it sounds. I promise.

Sometimes when I make small remarks to my dogs and my mother is around, she will slip in short doglish responses on their behalf. They usually fit so perfectly with what I imagine my dogs might actually say in response that I don't often stop and realize that I am imagining dogs talking. It takes a slip in her doglish, a slight catch in her dog reading abilities, for me to realize that I know my dogs' personalities so well, I feel as though I could put words in their mouths. So I correct my mother when she misspeaks.

"No, Alfie wouldn't say that. He's much too dignified."

"Butter wouldn't complain about that. Give her a bed and she's happy."

My dog-speak stems from my knowledge of my dogs' personalities, but anthropomorphizing dogs and letting them tell their story can also help strengthen the dog-human bond.

"Dog Years" shows how anthropomorphizing animals carefully, with fairness and benevolence, can help us have compassion and empathy for other species. One of the most poignant moments in the film is when Ben describes what life is like with his human.

The film shows him running through a shallow pool of water toward his owner as he begins, "Today we're spending some quality time together. This makes up for when he's been mysteriously disappearing from home, leaving me to do very little with myself. It's a pretty lonely existence, really. I get depressed and sleep a lot. When not sleeping, I roam about the house from one room to the next, getting my hopes up every time I hear the gate swing."

Try thinking about life from your dog's point of view. What would do you think he would have to say?

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