Acclaimed director Heddy Honigmann is a Peruvian-born Dutch director of fictional and documentary films. Her latest film is a poignant heart-warming, insightful documentary portrait of six service dogs and their people. BUDDY is about exploring the longest, lasting friendship between humankind and dogs since millennia. Here’s what she had to say to Canine Culture via email.
As a director of many films, how was the experience of filming service dogs and their people different?
I wanted to make this film with as much importance about the service dogs as there was with their human companions. Which required for everyone onset, including the crew, a more delicate form of being with the dogs while filming – whether we were with their people or not. And, when we were filming them, with or without dialogue, I wanted to capture their bond – the tenderness and love between them, revealing their friendship.
What made you take a subject like this on?
I had dogs when I was a young girl growing up. It was always me who went, walked and played with them in the park. I didn’t have a good relationship with my father, and my dogs always knew when I was sad.
“I still can feel their wet tongues on my knees.”
I remember seeing blind people walking, not with a stick but with a dog. And years later, I was watching a commercial about an ex-soldier with PTSD. I started researching with my colleague Monique Lesterhuis about the unique bonds between men and dogs with this illness, and that’s when this brand-new universe opened-up for me.
How did you find your subjects, they were all so great in the film, and seemed so easy with the camera?
The characters in BUDDY were all found through research and talking to different associations in the Netherlands, who trained dogs for totally different purposes. As in all my films I need to have a unique relationship with the people I film.
If I found great people to work with, but they didn’t have strong bonds with their dogs, they weren’t the right person for me.
If the dogs loved their people and they loved the crew, it was pretty easy to be accepted by the dogs.
There is no film in my whole life where I do not work towards an open relationship with my characters.
“I’m very curious and the human characters smell this quickly just as their canine friends.”
The response to your film has been so overwhelming, did you expect this when you started shooting?
No, I did not. While working I never think about the possible success of the film. I work very hard and adore my job. The moment comes while editing that you know you have a good or very good film in front of your eyes. You know this together with your editor. This happened with BUDDY. A tear you don’t expect wets your cheek. But I never know how successful a film will be. I never think about it while filming or editing. It’s better when it happens on its own, then it’s like a surprise.
Was it easy or difficult working with the dogs, as I’m sure they needed to do a few takes?
it wasn’t difficult. If the characters trust you, then the dogs do too. Although sometimes we would have to do a few takes looking for that special moment: the dogs and the humans never did the same take twice.
Do you have a dog yourself?
Will you make another film with dogs?
If I get a totally different ‘great idea’… you never know.