L.A.'s First-Ever Dog Film Festival Is Coming in June

Le Sauvetage (The Rescue) - H 2016
Courtesy of Ann Flower Communications

Le Sauvetage (The Rescue) - H 2016

THR film critic (and non-dog person) Michael Rechtshaffen (because Keanu the cat wasn't available) offers a sneak preview of the screened highlights.

Following in the paw prints of its New York debut in 2014, the Dog Film Festival, a human-canine bonding experience created by Vermont-based pet wellness advocate and radio personality Tracie Hotchner, takes its West Coast bow next weekend.

The fest kicks off in Los Angeles with an al fresco Afternoon Tea Pooch Party at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital (1900 South Sepulveda Blvd.) on June 4, complete with green carpet arrivals and celeb canine meet-and-greets, along with their two-legged friends including Melissa Rivers and surprise guests, plus the obligatory sWag bags. The festivities continue on June 5 with two programs comprised of dog-centric shorts from around the world at the Crest Theater (1262 Westwood Blvd.). Offering a sneak preview of the screened highlights is The Hollywood Reporter film critic (and non-dog person) Michael Rechtshaffen (because Keanu the cat wasn't available).

While L.A.'s vibrant dog culture runs neck-and-neck with its car culture, it certainly isn’t alone in its embrace of all things canine. Seemingly more than ever, dogs everywhere can be counted on to provide hours of entertainment, from YouTube to Cannes, where they hand out an annual Palme Dog Award for best canine performance. The posthumous winner was Nellie, the late bulldog who impressed mightily in Paterson.

There are as yet no feature-length films in the Dog Film Fest lineup — it would have been a nice coup to have landed the Los Angeles premiere of Wiener-Dog, the upcoming Todd Solondz comedy starring Ellen Burstyn and Kieran Culkin — but hopefully that’s in the offing.

For the time being, the fest offers a pair of smartly curated shorts serving up a rich variety of documentary, live-action and animated programming.  Although the first screening package is aimed more at family audiences, dogs are welcome to attend both Crest Theater screenings along with their owners — or, uh, facilitators.

Truth be told, as a critic, I have no issue with there being dogs in the actual theater as long as they’re not texting or crunching cellophane.

Among the humorous standouts are a pair by author and TV writer Merrill Markoe, whose brainchild, "Stupid Pet Tricks," was an institution on David Letterman’s late-night shows.    

While the animated The Lewis Lectures, featuring the voice of Jack Black and imagining what doggies do when humans leave the house, should whet your funny bone for this summer’s similarly themed Secret Life of Pets, the live-action Conversation With my Dogs is comically self-explanatory.

Markoe, who holds the philosophy that "most animals are a form of dog," started producing pet-centric video shorts decades ahead of the YouTube curve.

Also amusing is the bizarro classic The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold, in which Franklin W. Dixon's beloved teen detectives are played by two of William Wegman’s non-human, non-male Weimaraners in full hair and costume.

On a more serious note are a pair of very moving films: David and Goliath is a dramatization of a remarkable true story about a German Shepherd who shares his dog house with a Jewish resistance fighter fleeing Nazis; while A Boy and His Dog is a documentary portrait of the tender bond between a 7-year-old British lad born with a rare muscular condition and a three-legged dog who survived being hit by a train.

Disappointingly scratched from the fest lineup is the inspired-sounding Game of Bones. Maybe it had something to do with a Google search turning up a similarly titled porn film, but whatever the reason for the last-minute no-show, the organizers aren’t saying.

Even without it, there’s plenty in the two programs to sink your teeth into, but maybe future editions could be opened up to include other four-legged pets.

As our cat wishes to point out, felines are also naturally cute and adorable, without being so shamelessly eager to please!

Find out more info about the Dog Film Festival here