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They survived Katrina, but will they find their way home?
In New Orleans alone, an estimated 150,000 animals died in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The documentary Mine tells the story of the effort to save the animals that were separated from their owners and the subsequent struggle to reunite the four-legged Katrina victims with their human companions.
Facts of the Case
As Hurricane Katrina approached the Louisiana coastline in the summer of 2005, a mandatory evacuation order was issued to the residents of New Orleans. As hundreds of thousands of people sought safer ground, pet owners found that there was no plan to save their animals. Hotels, shelters and other evacuation centers did not accept animals. Many families locked their pets in their houses and hoped to return to them once the storm passed.
The magnitude of the devastation in Katrina's wake shocked the nation. Among the televised images of the destroyed city was the sight of dogs trapped on rooftops in flooded neighborhoods. Volunteers from around the country went to New Orleans to help with the relief efforts and many of them came with the express purpose of evacuating animals.
Rescuing the animals from the flood was one thing; finding homes for them would create another mess. Animals were placed with families across the U.S. and Canada but it wasn't clear whether these were temporary or new permanent homes. The human Katrina victims, slowly rebuilding their lives, would have to go to great lengths to find their beloved pets. Then they face the legal hurdles if their animal's new family isn't willing to surrender the pet.
Perhaps the bond between pet owners and their animals is only truly understood by fellow pet owners (and I'm not one of them). It comes through pretty clearly that Mine is made by pet-positive people and it goes a long way to show that animals and humans are companions to one another and not merely possessions that one buys at a pet store. The movie chronicles the ordeal of four pet owners and their dogs. It isn't hard to understand that the dogs are members of the family.
The misconception that pet owners simply abandoned their animals in the face of disaster is insensitive and unfair. Imagine the dilemma of having to leave your home to possible destruction and not being able to bring a family member with you. The flooding trapped an elderly New Orleans resident named Gloria. When rescuers found her clutching her dog Murphy, she was told to leave the dog and come with them willingly or they would forcibly separate her from Murphy.
In the aftermath of the storm, it wasn't any easier for the owners to reunite with their pets. Even with online services like Pet Finder to catalog rescued animals, it still meant owners needed to search through thousands of pictures of pets to identify theirs. Victor Marino's dog was wearing ID tags on his collar, yet Max was shipped to another state and adopted by another family.
The stigma of being a Katrina evacuee that abandoned his or her dog may be a reason for the cold response that returning residents received when they asked for help in locating their pets. Jessie James Pullins evacuated 20 family members before the storm but had to leave his dog J.J. behind. We listen in on a frustrating phone call with a rescue agency volunteer that tells Jessie he should be grateful they saved J.J.'s life. However, the agency won't tell Jesse where his dog is nor will they inform the new owners that their dog's original owner is looking for him.
Director Geralyn Pezanoski displays a sure hand with her first feature documentary. Mine is well paced and contains some affecting dramatic moments. Chronicling what might have been an untold tragedy of the Katrina disaster, the film is quite thorough and surprisingly balanced. It feels like a complete picture of events from volunteers on the ground to returning residents trying to piece their lives back together. In addition to interviews with the evacuees, we also meet some of the families that took in the rescued animals. While it's tempting to view them as villains, the film doesn't make it so easy. There is no question that the new owners care about the animals just as much as their original owners. The director shows real sensitivity to this human drama.
The video and audio presentations are respectable but not stellar. The news footage and original material shot on video can't help but lend the production a low-grade appearance. The contrast range is limited so sunny outdoor scenes tend to be too bright and darker indoor scenes are noticeably grainy. The talking head interviews, shot under controlled conditions, are considerably better in terms of sharpness, clarity and color saturation. This isn't a film that requires a glossy look, however, so the variations in picture quality aren't a huge detriment. The interviews and background music are served just fine by the stereo mix. The short film (more on that below) is presented in 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white picture is deliberately made to look like worn celluloid.
The key supplemental feature is an 11-minute follow-up segment with one of the interview subjects. Within the scope of the main feature, the story of Jesse and J.J. is unresolved so it's quite satisfying that the filmmakers supply a conclusion on the DVD. There are also biographies of the filmmakers and the director's written statement on the inside of the disc's packaging. Finally, there are 12 minutes of PSAs concerning dog care. In the director's notes, she mentions filming PSAs for a rescue organization but it's unclear if any or all of these were made by her.
A nice tie-in with the main feature, Film Movement's short film of the month is The Life of a Dog, or alternatively La vie d'un chien. American filmmaker John Harden emulates Chris Marker's famous La Jetee by telling his story through a series of still compositions. It's narrated in French and subtitled in English. A scientist working in Paris, in 1962, creates a drug that temporarily changes the human user into a dog. Canine life on the streets of Paris turns out to be an exhilarating experience and after he reverts to his human form the scientist realizes he'd rather be a dog. It's a straightforward narrative, filled with humor, that moves along briskly over its 13 minutes.
Mine is a moving documentary about a group of Katrina disaster victims that most people would not have thought to consider. It's also an exceedingly well-told story about the people involved, from the volunteer rescuers to the emotionally affected owners on both sides of the drama. It also reminds us that a measure of our civility is the respect and dignity we bestow to those humans and animals in need of help.
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