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MINE: Taken By Katrina
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by Jay Seaver

"Not all a disaster's victims are human."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: There are a lot of fiction films that don't set their main plot up as artfully as "MINE" does. After all, the title speaks pretty directly to what the movie is about, and yet director Geralyn Pezanoski is able to lull us into looking in a different direction, telling one interesting story that we forget is merely prelude to the main tale.

The opening tells us about how the evacuation of New Orleans, Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina frequently involved people leaving their four-legged family members behind for one reason or another. Fortunately, there are dedicated animal-rescue activists like Karen O'Toole and Jane Garrison, who mobilize almost immediately to rescue stranded pets (O'Toole comments that it's amazing that just by having "animal rescue" painted on the side of their vans, the army would let them into the flooded city when people trying to return to their homes were turned away). It's a gigantic logistical undertaking, not always happy - they come across people who treated their animals terribly, and one rescuer grimly notes that "cats don't bark". In order to make it work, the rescuers must often ship the animals they rescue to other shelters to make room for more incoming.

The trouble with that is, just as people weren't always able to take their pets with them as they escaped, they may not have known how to find them after returning home, or the various humane societies might have put them out for fostering/adoption relatively soon. Victor's bulldog Max is sent to Florida, where a woman adopts him and calls him Joey; Jesse's beloved JJ is sent to California; retired nurse Gloria's black lab Murphy becomes "Shadow" in California; 85-year-old Creole Malvin's poodle Bandit is sent to a shelter in Pittsburgh whose operator won't return any animals; Linda's German Shepherd Precious becomes Katia in Texas and she tries to sue for her return.

We've all seen kids' movies where two owners stand on opposite sides of a room calling the dog, who usually looks hopelessly confused and conflicted. The situations in this movie are similar, but won't get resolved in such an easy way. Most of the time, Pezanoski's sympathies seem to lie pretty firmly with the original owners; they've already lost everything and having to fight to get their dogs back is just one more blow from nature and bureaucracy. She does avoid painting the adopters as particularly unsympathetic characters; for the most part, people willing to adopt these pets are good folks caught in a bad situation, as they've bonded with their dogs and may not have heard from the original owners until months later.

Many of the characters are memorable. I was particularly fond of Jesse, who had been homeless in the past and found adopting JJ a watershed moment, meaning that he could commit to taking care of someone else. Malvin's story gives us a charming tale of long-distance friendship between this old gentleman and a woman in British Columbia who opts to help him out when she hears of his case. And while it may be hard to sympathize with Max/Joey's new person, it's hard to say we wouldn't justify and rationalize the same way she does.

Post-Katrina/Rita New Orleans is as haunting an environment as one is likely to find, and Pezanoski uses it well. It's often a stark contrast with the open and unspoiled new homes the dogs have found, although the film avoids pushing the comparison too directly most of the time. I enjoyed the procedural look at how the rescuers tried to run the operation, and their righteous anger at the pet owners who kept their animals in terrible conditions (far too many of those).

It's no big spoiler to say that not all the stories MINE tells have a happy ending (its arguable that Max/Joey's can't; both owners love the little guy too much). Enough do - in ways both wonderful and bittersweet - that the movie is ultimately hopeful.

Which is good; who wants to come out of a movie about dogs and basically feel like life sucks?

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originally posted: 03/19/09 18:53:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival For more in the 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/03/11 Louise Lemieux a fantastic film about another side of disaster 5 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 04-May-2010


  DVD: 09-Mar-2010

Directed by
  Geralyn Pezanoski

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