Taken by Katrina
Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 08 July 2009
Source 35mm print
Categories The 2009 Independent Film Festival of Boston
It all seems so clear cut at first. The pet owners who were forced to leave their animals behind when they fled the devastation Hurricane Katrina now long to be reunited with their four-legged friends. Their desire is completely understandable: to people who have lost nearly everything, the presence of a beloved pet can serve as an immeasurable comfort. So pet owners – and some dedicated volunteers – toil away, clicking through websites full of photographs of rescued pets, spending hours on the phone, and playing the occasional hunch. But as first-time director Geralyn Pezanoski’s documentary Mine reveals, the process isn’t as simple as tracking the animals down, and the right of the pet’s onetime owners to reclaim their animals is often drawn into question.
Mine uncovers the issues of class, education, and animal rights that lay buried beneath our assumptions about the place that pets should occupy in our society. We witness an irate rescue worker arguing that he will not allow pets to return to homes that he views as the unfit, and we hear displaced pets’ foster families argue that they are providing a better life than the pet’s original owners previously had. But what constitutes a proper home for a pet? Many of the animals left behind in New Orleans were not spayed or neutered, had untreated medical conditions, or came from poorer households that didn’t provide them the same luxuries as their post-Katrina caretakers. Yet many of these animals also came from extraordinarily loving homes. (Witness the dedication of Malvin Cavalier, who awaits the return of his beloved dog Bandit while carefully maintaining an elaborate doghouse outside of his own humble living quarters.) Where does one cease to fight for animal rights and begin to engage in stealthy class warfare? The very concept of animals as human property – which is what the law states in many parts of the country, effecting litigation related to displaced Katrina animals – becomes a point of contention here. That word, “mine,” that gives the film its title, is bandied about by many of the interviewees, but its definition remains elusive.
And sociology aside, a tangle of emotions makes these cases messier still. In several instances, displaced pets are given two different names and fought over by individuals and families who believe that the bond that they share with “their” animal surely trumps that of the other party. One woman even imagines getting her opponent in the room and letting the dog in question choose a master. Happily, the vitriol exchanged by some of the humans in the film is more than matched by the compassion displayed by others, and in addition to the bitter feuds, we bear witness to some moving reunions and the formation of some cross-country (and even international) friendships.
Still, there are few easy answers regarding the fates of the recued pets, and Pezanoski remains keenly aware of this. Her film offers a remarkably sensitive study of a maddeningly difficult situation, providing welcome perspective even as emotions boil over.
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