by Elizabeth Bornstein
There were tears and laughter from dog lovers and film buffs who travelled from all over Sydney to attend the inaugural Good Dog! Film Festival at Balmain Town Hall recently. More than 150 films of 15 minutes or less from New York, London, Canada, New Zealand and Australia were screened in the categories of comedy, drama, documentary and animation.
Jane Mulligan, 25, who travelled from Church Point because of her love of dogs and film, was noticeably moved. “This was an exciting event for me. I didn’t think I would be so emotional,” she said. “I loved the local films – really raw and unpolished.”
The festival was initially designed to draw a crowd to Balmain from wider Sydney. Anny Slater, a local resident who organised the festival, was becoming increasingly concerned about the number of local businesses closing down.
“I felt compelled to do something,” she said. She combined her love of films, dogs, and her local suburb to find a solution. “My first thought was to put on a film festival, but anyone can do that. It had to be unique so that people would want to come from other places to Balmain, and once they get here, the place sells itself,” she said.
As well as helping local business, all proceeds from the festival will go to local charities Animal Welfare League, Monika’s Doggie Rescue and the local Balmain charity Bow Meow.
Acclaimed cinematographer and director Harris Done opened the festival via video address Mr Done’s film War Dog’s of the Pacific was screened on the opening night. Anny Slater warned, “People will be drying their eyes. An amazing and touching film”.
Mary Ancich, founder of Bow Meow, will use the proceeds to help promote awareness of her not-for-profit organisation which aims to “help older people get the maximum benefit from pet ownership”.
Ms Ancich was dismayed by the increasing local unrest around leash-free’ parks in the area, and decided to create an organisation that would unify the community through animals, rather than divide it.
Bow Meow coordinates volunteers who help older people as they find it more difficult to care for their pets. Volunteers can do as little or as much as they want, with involvement ranging from casual dog walking, to longer term care.
Ms Ancich entered a film in the Experimental category of the festival. The film titled Closer to Dogs, was filmed entirely on an iphone and features Ms Ancich and Bow Meow client 94-year-old Don Pilgrim. The film focuses on how dogs can improve a person’s quality of life. Mr Pilgrim is confined to life on a motorised scooter and doesn’t leave the house without his best friend Scamp, with the dog giving him motivation to face each day.
Ms Ancich shares a similarly tight bond with her dogs, strengthened by the recent death of her husband. “The dogs have really helped through the grieving process. Not coming home to an empty house makes things a lot easier,” says Ms Ancich.
The film struck a chord with many festival goers. Mary, Don and Scamp were present during the showing of Closer to Dogs, and received prolonged ovation from the audience. The praise continued for Scamp, who was later awarded $500 prize money for ‘Best Dog in Show’.
The Good Dog! Film Festival attracted an estimated 1000 people over the weekend.