We’re now on its halfway point of the 11-day film festivities! I’ve been watching plenty of documentaries back to back, and today we’ve got reviews of two excellent ones we highly recommend.
Our nation’s electrical grid and having a transgender family member. The two don’t seem to be related, do they? They will after you see Denial, the first feature film for director Derek Hallquist. The background for this movie and the story it turned into are as interesting as the film itself.
It starts out as a traditional documentary, with Hallquist’s father, David, the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, attempting to educate his son on the shortcomings of our nation’s power grid and the threat of climate change. It’s a little wonky: “Okay, I lost you there,” the son says at one point.
During the shooting of the movie, a family secret is revealed: his father has come out to the family as transgender and wants to live as a woman named Christine. One of the things I admired about this film is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles the family goes through. “We didn’t know how to handle it,” Derek says. While he comes out to his family, he struggles to fit his new identity into his work life. “He says he’s Dave at the co-op because he has a contract,” his wife says. “Well, we had a contract too.”
Change is hard. Both of these situations are transformative social and moral issues. “We don’t think very much about the amount of electricity we use until it smacks us in the face,” Dr. Courtney Warren, a social psychologist, says in the film. The same could be said for the process the Hallquist family is going through. Through the work of an earnest young filmmaker, he uses his own family’s situation to bring a new voice to something that affects everyone.
‘Prison Dogs’ Review
This is one of TCFF’s Changemaker Series’ films playing this year tackling the topic of PTSD, and it’s no doubt one of my favorite docs of the year. The bond of humans and animals are undisputed, but the bond between service dogs and their masters are pivotal. Prison Dogs explores a groundbreaking program that offers the gift of a second chance to prisoners in which they train puppies to be service dogs for veterans with PTSD.
The film is set in New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility where the many inmates serve a long sentence for violent crimes such as murder and armed robbery. At the start of the film, a selected number of inmates get assigned a puppy to train, and the joy and excitement is palpable. For them this is a gift of redemption, it’s their chance to pay their debts to society in some ways. The show also shows Gloria Gilbert Stoga, the feisty dog expert who runs the Puppies Behind Bars program and her tough love approach to teach the inmates to train their puppies. It shows an amusing moments where these inmates are intimidated by her, who expects a 100% commitment and responsibilities from the inmates.
It’s one of the most moving, as well as entertaining documentaries that truly make you fully invested in the subjects’ journey. Whether it’s the inmates, the dog expert or the veterans who gets to keep the service dog in the end, I care about each and every one of them by the end. This is what an amazing storytelling is all about, so I applaud directors Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz, who each have won Emmys and Peabody awards respectively. I’ve never heard of this life-altering program before but I’ve come to believe that it just could be the answer to making a prison a real place of rehabilitation.
Be sure to bring tissues when you see this one. The scenes between the inmates and their puppies tug your heartstrings, especially the ‘graduation’ scene where the puppies are now certified service dogs ready to go home with their new masters. The inmates kept a journal as they trained the dogs and it’s heart-wrenching to watch them say goodbye to their four-legged friends.
I can’t recommend this enough folks, run don’t walk to see this when it plays near you. It proves that despite the bleak subject matter, the film can be a joyful, inspiring and uplifting experience. It one of those documentaries I don’t even mind watching again!
PRISON DOGS is now available on @iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play.
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8 thoughts on “TCFF 2016 Documentaries Reviews: ‘Denial’ + ‘Prison Dogs’”
I’m even more interested in Prison Dogs now. I remember thinking it sounded interesting in your preview. Now I’ll have to see it. Hopefully I’ll get a chance. As for Denial…I initially thought it was the new Rachel Weisz picture. 🙂
Hi Keith! Oh you should absolutely see PRISON DOGS, it’s such an excellent documentary… you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll absolutely want to support this great program. It’s what great storytelling is all about.
Y’know I initially thought DENIAL was the Rachel Weisz film too, which I’m curious to see 🙂
Prison Dogs was one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, but I’m prejudiced… I love dogs! The thing that got me was you can’t imagine the puppy trainers being violent criminals when you see them so enthusiastic and dedicated to their training duties and how much they love their dogs.
I was also amazed at how much the dogs helped the vets with their PTSD. Their PTSD seemed a little nebulous before they got their dogs but you could see the profound, positive changes in them afterwards.
Glad to see you gave it 4.5 stars, Flixy… it’s a winner!
Hi Becky, glad we saw this together. It’s indeed a fantastic documentary, and I love dogs too! But it’s sooo much more than that, it’s just an emotional story of redemption that’s so well-documented. Glad to see this was directed by two women, see Hollywood, women made great directors! 😉
Both look like really interesting documentaries…added them to my watch list
Glad to hear Nostra! I got to meet one of the service dogs from Prison Dogs, so awesome!
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