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VIFF 2016 Interview: PRISON DOGS' Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir

by Jason Whyte

"In the least likely of places, a medium & maximum security prison, puppies are trained by inmates to become service dogs for veterans with PTSD. Surprising as it may sound, the puppies live in jail cells with the inmates for two years. During this time, the men train the dogs to learn 95 commands, including turning on a light switch and pulling a blanket off a person having a nightmare. Then comes heartbreak, because it is time for the puppies to go to their new homes. It is an emotional and bittersweet goodbye. Mixed with sadness is the pride of accomplishment and the reward of giving back to society. The inmates and veterans find common ground, whether they are in a physical or figurative prison, they are both in need of a second chance, and the vehicle is a puppy." Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir on PRISON DOGS which is screening at the 2016 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

I love the concept of this film and its execution, but how did this movie come together from your perspective?

Perri Peltz: Geeta and I had been looking for a story that we could tell that would highlight the unacceptable prison recidivism rates in the United States. We wanted a story that would be accessible to an audience and we thought the opportunity to use dogs to break down traditional barriers would work well. We worked very closely with a wonderful organization called Puppies Behind Bars and its President and Founder Gloria Gilbert Stoga and of course this project never would have happened without the full support of the Department of Corrections.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?

Perri: Peoples' stories drive us creatively. We never fail to be so deeply appreciative that people are willing to share their personal and often difficult stories with us. It is an honor and a privilege.

I can imagine with this topic there must have been a lot of issues with getting it made. What was the biggest one?

Perri: The biggest challenge was access. While the Department of Corrections could not have been more wonderful and easy to work with, we still had relatively limited access to the prison. We worked around it by having the inmates document their stories and share them with us when we would next visit the facility. Access is often such an important part of a good documentary and working in a prison was a challenge.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought you had something?

I think we knew it from the start. The inmates were so willing to be open and share their stories with us, when we realized they were willing to be vulnerable we realized we were onto something.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the "technical" side of the film and how you achieved the look and feel.

Geeta: We met our DP through a reference, his great empathetic personality and technical skill made him our first choice. We started on the EX3 and 5D as we wanted a gritty filmic look. We then moved onto the C300 and 5D as technology evolved, again wanting the most cinematic look possible.

Where is this movie going to show next? Any ideas of how you would like to distribute the film?

Perri: PRISON DOGS is screening at film festivals in the U.S. and Canada and the film will be launching across digital platforms as well, including iTunes!

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

Perri: I think we would love to show this within the prison system. I am fairly certain such a system doesn't exist! We would also love for veterans who give so much to be able to see this film. Veterans are without a doubt the unsung heroes of this documentary.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

Geeta: I would tell them the reception was better outside the theater, and the privacy as well.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Geeta: To know that documentary film is a labor of love and make sure when you embark on one that you envision a beginning, middle, and end just like you would a narrative. Good storytelling is the key to a doc the same as a scripted film, and your characters are the heart of the story.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

I love many movies I see at fests, so will talk about best festival experience at my first Sundance. I had worked on three films that were playing as an editor and I had the best time; I was part of the director's entourage and I had all the fun and none of the pressure!

Be sure to visit the official website for more information at!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 29th to October 14th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 10/02/16 03:04:19
last updated: 10/02/16 03:06:43
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