Chienne de vie – A Dog’s Life
Documentarian Hélène Choquette shares her thoughts with CanineCulture® on the subject of homelessness, and on her latest documentary A Dog’s Life with a Toronto Premiere at Hot Docs International Film Festival – April 28 – May 8, 2016
Shot in Toronto and Montreal, Choquette tracked six homeless people whose deep bonds with their canine companions enabled them to survive, and cope with life on the streets, and in shelters. Here’s what she had to say.
Why did you choose to do a documentary on the subject of homeless people and their dogs?
Hélène Choquette: Dogs are one of the most empathetic animals that exists. The majority of us have natural empathy for them. Sadly it’s not the same kind of empathy felt towards homelessness, and it was precisely for that reason I wanted to make this film, to show the unique relationship that unites these two living beings.
How did you gain their trust to allow you into their world with an unvarnished lens?
HC: The research stage lasted for 6 months before I started to come with a very small crew (soundman, cameraman and an assistant). Sometimes I would handle the camera myself to keep the intimacy going. Filming them over the year was the main challenge, but it was the only way to show the real face of homelessness. Everybody has pride and it takes time to drop the masks to see the darker aspects of their reality.
When you started out to make this film, what was going through your mind to how best address the issues of homelessness?
HC: In all of my films, my goal is to give a voice to people who hardly have one. The homeless voice was one I wanted to hear. For two years, I was searching for an original way to do it when one day I saw a young man having an overdose on the street. His dog was at his side barking.
I could clearly feel the animal’s anxiety. The police arrived and called a shelter to come pick the dog up and than I imagined the man’s reaction when he would wake up in a hospital without knowing where his companion was. I remember being haunted by this experience for days. It was this situation that gave me the key for my approach.
What were the issues you wanted to shed a light on?
HC: By putting my camera on homeless’s dogs, I hoped to catch viewers attention on the strength of the emotional bond between them and their owners.
Dogs allow people living on the street to keep their head above water. Their animals remind them of their own basic needs. The dogs preserve their dignity, their humanity. If we ’d had more consideration, I think we could ameliorate life conditions of many homeless, because at the moment dogs are not allowed in most shelters and other resources in Canada. They don’t have access to the services available in shelters. For sure it’s a big challenge to host homeless and their dogs under the same roof – but I believe it is necessary to consider it.
We could think of a possible partnership between homeless shelters and shelters for abandoned animals. Both have very different needs and no one should improvise himself veterinary or social worker.
Were you concerned about the dogs wellbeing?
HC: At first I was I bit concerned but after two weeks I understood that most dogs had pretty good lives being next to their masters 24/7. Most of the homeless I was following were being given food for their dogs, and if not, then food for their pet was their number one priority.
Do you have a dog?
HC: Yes. I have a 7 year old Goldendoodle. I love my dog but she wasn’t an inspiration for the film. She was only my office secretary and security guard as I was writing the script 🙂
What is the message you wish to bring to your viewing audience?
HC: Several homeless would tell you that most bystanders were worried more for the dog’s condition, than for their master. Both companions are diametrically opposed in our compassion scale. I keep asking myself : why most of us worry more about the dog’s condition than its owner sitting next to him? If we are moved by the dog’s eyes, full of tenderness, shouldn’t we be as much sensitive to the distress in those of his master?
Rating: 4 Paws
You can catch “A Dog’s Life” documentary during the Hot Docs 2016 Festival in Toronto – the festival runs through April 28 – May 2016. Hot Docs is North America’s largest documentary festival.
A Dog’s life is showcased in the Canadian Spectrum Program.
Screenings: Wed, May 4 @ 6:45pm & Sat. & May 7 @10:15 am at TIFF Bell Lightbox, and Thursday, May 5 @1:30pm at Isabel Bader Theatre.
For more info: www.hotdocs.ca