Pick of the Litter


This film is truly about man’s best friend.

(2018) Documentary (Sundance Selects) Phil, Poppet, Primrose, Patriot, Potomac. Directed by Don Hardy, Jr. and Dana Nachman

 

All right, in the interest of full disclosure I will make my confession now: I am a dog nut. Not a dog lover – that implies some sort of sanity. I’m absolutely crazy about dogs. There was a meme going around Facebook not long ago about the seven signs your spouse is a dog nut – I fit all seven of them. It drives my poor wife to distraction sometimes. Naturally, when I found out about this documentary about puppies going through the rigorous training of becoming a guide dog I was all in.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is a Northern California-based organization that as their name implies provides guide dogs for those who are sight-impaired. The standards are high and the training rigorous. Many of the puppies that are enrolled in their training program are born right there at GDB and in this particular case we follow the five Labrador puppies from a single litter. Their names are Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and, incongruously, Phil.

Each of these puppies will be weaned from their mother in the San Rafael kennel, then placed at five months with “puppy raiser” families which include “empty nest” couples, a high school student and his mom, a PTSD-suffering man who uses the dogs as a distraction from his own issues, and families who simply want to help out. Each of the pups will have one of three outcomes. If they are unable to handle the standards of training, they will be “career changed” i.e. washed out of the program and placed with other charities or, occasionally, placed with families permanently. The second outcome is that females may be kept at the San Rafael facility to be bred. Finally the outcome everyone wants, to pass all the rigorous tests and be placed with a blind person to be their best friend and protector.

The puppy raisers go into this with the understanding that they will get the dogs for no more than a year and in some cases, much less. They are fully aware that they are training their charges for someone else’s benefit, not their own. Throughout the process, the dogs will be tested every three months for certain sorts of behaviors that might disqualify them; an inability to follow commands, a tendency to be easily distracted – that sort of thing. Some dogs may be taken out of the program before their time with the puppy trainers is done.

When their time with the raisers is done, the puppies are brought back to the GDP facility for more intensive work with trainers who will give them particular skills, such as dealing with traffic, with train platforms, walking on streets without sidewalks, the kinds of things that the sighted take for granted but can be deadly if not navigated correctly. The dogs go through a series of exams that test them on particular skills. If they don’t pass, they are given one more chance. If they pass, they advance. If not, they are career changed.

While this is like a lot of child competition documentaries that have proliferated like Starbucks franchises lately, there is a distinct difference in that while there is rooting interest in all the pups, there are no real losers here. None of these dogs have any awareness of the stakes involved; they are all going to wind up somewhere in caring environments.

We don’t see a whole lot of the training the pups go through with their puppy raisers, although the primary responsibility of the raisers is to bring the candidates into the world, learning to interact with their surroundings so that they are better able to do their jobs. The puppy raiser parents are trying to give their charges the best possible chance at acquiring the skills they will learn in the more intensive training phase in San Rafael.

The dogs have plenty of personality; Potomac is “mouthy” and loves to nip his handlers. Phil is endearing and has a bit of a hound dog appeal. Patriot has a ton of energy which sometimes makes it difficult for him to focus. Primrose is affectionate almost to a fault and Poppet is cool, calm and collected (for the most part).

This is as much about the trainers and the raisers as it is about the dogs themselves and I’m sorry that I didn’t get their names written down but I’d forgotten my notebook when I attended my screening. However, I was completely enchanted (dog nut) and was grinning ear to ear throughout the film (dog nut). I was rooting for all the dogs to succeed (dog nut) but I did have one particular favorite (dog nut). In these times of divisiveness and stress, dogs are a natural tonic (dog nut) and this movie may even convince a few non-dog nuts. However if you’re anything like me (and more power to you if you are) you’ll want to see this one every time you’re feeling blue. Expect that this one will be a permanent part of my video collection once it’s available for sale.

REASONS TO GO: Dog lovers, this is your jam. The stories of the trainers and foster families are pretty compelling. Gives you a sense of what the training the dogs go through. I was grinning ear to ear from beginning to end and never lost interest.
REASONS TO STAY: Cat people may take umbrage.
FAMILY VALUES: The film is perfectly suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Guide Dogs for the Blind was founded in San Rafael, California in 1942 to aid blinded soldiers returning home from the Second World War.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Heart of a Dog
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
All About Nina

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Bill Coors: The Will to Live


Bill Coors, Still a silver bullet as a centenarian.

(2017) Documentary (Indie Rights) Bill Coors, Amit Sood, Kieran Goodwin, Quran Squire, Scott Coors, Margo Hamilton, Dr. Scott Shannon, Amie Lee, Graceanne Parks, Tracy Atkins, May Coors, Leon Kelly, Thomas Pauling, John Ortiz, Peter Coors, Rosa Bunn, Herbert Benson, Max Morton, Karl Cordova, Patty Layman, Candice Jones, Brooke Stocks, Elizabeth Archer. Directed by Kerry David

 

Especially these days when it seems like there’s a very real class war going on in this country, we have a tendency to forget that the people in the 1% are just as human as we are. Some of them – a lot of them – are certainly driven by greed and an attempt to not only keep what they have but improve upon it, there are those who have had their share of suffering which has made them very different from those privileged few who cannot have any empathy for those in lesser economic brackets.

The grandfather of William Coors was Adolph Coors who founded the Coors Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado back in 1873. Bill’s dad, Adolph Jr. would inherit the plant from his father who committed suicide in 1929. Bill characterized his father as a stern and exacting disciplinarian who rarely displayed affection to anyone. As a result, Bill had a difficult time showing affection which would later end his first marriage.

Bill was always a success in business; under his stewardship Coors went from being a regional brewery to a national and even global presence; it is the second largest beer company in the United States and the fifth largest in the world. Having come from money, one would think he led a charmed life.

One would be wrong. Depression runs strongly in the Coors family and there were cracks in the facade; his grandfather, the founder of the company, committed suicide in 1929; his daughter did the same in 1983. His older brother Adolph III was murdered in 1960 during a botched kidnapping and his first wife Geraldine died of the effects of alcoholism shortly after they divorced.

Bill also suffered from depression all of his life but it became much more obvious following the death of his brother. He did an enormous amount of research in trying to find a way to overcome his mental health issue. The movie is largely based around an address he gave graduating students of the American Academy of Achievement in 1981; although no video exists of his speech, there is audio of it and it is played throughout the film. In it Bill details some of the critical aspects of overcoming depression and what he calls his eleventh commandment – “Honor Thyself.” He had felt that repeating business platitudes would be of less use and instead delivered an impassioned and highly personal address instead.

That may sound like the dictates of a privileged and entitled generation but in reality it’s a remarkably accurate distillation of what mental health professionals often advise their patients. Bill learned and passed on that in order to love others he must first learn to love himself, something that his unaffectionate father never gave him the tools to do.

Young people, many of them YouTube vloggers, as well as family members, employees, and those close to Bill also chime in with either their own depression stories (musician Amie Lee implores people to communicate when they feel something is wrong) or how Bill has improved their lives.

The main problem here is that the whole thing kind of feels like an infomercial with nothing to sell except Bill’s philosophy of life perhaps. For those who have seen self-help infomercials late at night on cable, this will seem a bit uncomfortably familiar from the music to the way the film is laid out. That does some disservice to the subject who one gets the sense is genuine in his concern for others who like himself suffer from depression.

This is kinda Bill Coors’ story and kinda not. I suspect it was more important to get his message out than to tell his story although he does so mainly to emphasize that it’s possible to beat depression. If you chose to see this documentary, it is unlikely what you expected to see. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing but it can certainly affect how receptive you are to the message. I think the film would have been better served to take Bill’s name out of the title but perhaps the filmmakers were hoping the Coors name would give potential audiences the impression that this is a film about beer – and who doesn’t want to see a film about beer?

The movie is currently paying in New York City with engagements in Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle in upcoming weeks. It will also be available on VOD starting on November 1st. Check your favorite home video providers for availability.

REASONS TO GO: Coors has a very compelling and occasionally heartbreaking story and his message is a worthy one.
REASONS TO STAY: Plays more than a little bit like an infomercial.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Coors turned 102 years old shortly before the film was released
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Pick of the Litter