New York’s Cat and Dog Film Festivals return after pandemic hiatus

Two annual cinematic celebrations invariably attract avid ticket buyers, though they lack car chases, explosions, alien invasions or Daniel Craig as sulky James Bond.

What they have: mustaches, savagery and quite a bit of wit.

These are the NY Cat Film Festival and the NY Dog Film Festival, which are returning to Manhattan after a pandemic-induced hiatus. The Cat Festival, screened at noon on Saturday – World Cat Day – at the Village East Theater by Angelika, features 21 short works with a total running time of approximately 90 minutes. The nearly two-hour Dog Festival, which arrives at the same theater on October 24, features 20 shorts. (Animal lovers outside of New York can also see the festivals: they will tour for several months, both nationwide and in Canada.)

“I think this is the highest quality year, maybe for both,” said Tracie Hotchner, a Vermont author and radio host who founded the 2015 dog festival and edition of the cat two years later. In a telephone interview, she explained that at the start of the confinement in 2020, “people couldn’t find toilet paper, but they made beautiful films”.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic is in the spotlight at both festivals. In “Will You Be My Quarantine?”, a feline comedy, actress and director Susku Ekim Kaya shows herself and her pet, Lady Leia, in split-screen, engaged in typically obsessive lockdown activities like grooming, watching TV, scrolling cell phones and FaceTime calling. They lead harmonious parallel lives, while the feline protagonists of Jasmin Scuteri-Young’s ‘Quarantine Diary’ and Asali Echols’ ‘House Cats’ complain about the constant presence of their owners in human-provided voiceovers. .

Dog festival subjects, on the other hand, never seem to yearn for social distancing. “You don’t believe in personal space,” Kyle Scoble tenderly tells Darla, his Labrador retriever-pointer mix, in “The Second Time I Got to Know My Dog,” a documentary that pays homage to how Darla got it. until 2020.

But cats may have a reason for their seemingly aloof attitudes. “If it’s an indoor cat, it’s in a perpetual state of lockdown,” Kim Best, a director from Durham, North Carolina, said in a phone conversation.

This sighting fuels Best’s “The Great Escape,” in which a cat named Monkey makes concerted attempts to leave the house, even consulting the digital assistant Alexa, which it beats and meows. In Best’s other festival entry, “Cat Capitalization,” his pet Nube takes to the internet to market his artistry, pretentiously thanking – in thought bubbles – mentors like artists Mark Rothko and Vincent Van Gogh. (Nube is missing a bit of an ear.)

Best said she was aiming for “a satire not only of capitalism but also of academia”.

This humor is very present in the festival of the cat, in which films like “Feline Noir” by Nevada Caldwell and “Catfight at the O’Kay Corral” by Priscilla Dean parody old Hollywood clichés.

But while the slate of canine films is not without laughs – David Coole’s animated “Go Fetch” is a sharp two-minute revenge comedy – it contains far more in-depth examinations of the human-animal bond that characterized both festivals before.

“Affection in the Streets,” for example, a Brazilian documentary by Thiago Köche, films the lives of homeless people in Pôrto Alegre, who often take better care of their dogs than themselves. Loyal pets also cause concern among passers-by, who are often unaware of the suffering of pet owners.

“People who love dogs just look beyond humans,” Hotchner said. “I would like more movies about that, because I think that’s the thing we don’t want to watch.”

“The Comfort Dogs” also shows the power of owning a pet. Directed by Matthew Salleh and Rose Tucker, an Australian couple who live and work together in Brooklyn, the film is an excerpt from their feature documentary “We Don’t Deserve Dogs”. The segment focuses on the Comfort Dog Project, which provides pets to young people who were forced to become child soldiers during Uganda’s civil war.

With the dogs by their side, former soldiers can share “quite heartbreaking” experiences, Salleh said in a joint phone call. “The dogs are almost part of the storytelling method itself.”

Another documentary, “Nicola” by Zach Putnam, illustrates how its subject, a yellow lab from Canine Companions, a disability services program, transformed not just the life of the student who received it. She also taught a solid lesson in confidence and sacrifice to the student who trained her with dedication but ultimately had to abandon her in tears.

Both festivals, however, remind viewers that these animals need people as much as people need them. Hotchner, who runs the programs as a labor of love—tickets for each are $20—always contributes a portion of sales from each screening to a related local charity. The New York Cat Festival will help support Bideawee’s Feral Cat initiative, while this year all canine festival screenings will benefit nonprofits associated with Saving Senior Dogs Week (October 25-31).

“There’s a growing awareness” aside from Covid, “that senior dogs are delightful to adopt and the fastest to put to sleep in a shelter,” Hotchner said. In Gary Tellalian’s “Legends of Comedy Share Love for Old Dogs,” you’ll hear this message in a public service announcement from celebrities who are themselves elderly: Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart and Lily Tomlin, as well as Carl Reiner, passed away last June. at 98.

The plight of dogs who aren’t cuddly puppies also surfaces in documentaries like “Not Broken: Freedom Ride,” by Krista Dillane, Emma Lao and Dylan Abad, about a long journey to transport 53 rescued dogs from Louisiana to a fair. pet adoption in Rhode Island. In “Chino,” another excerpt from “We Don’t Deserve Dogs,” its aging subject, a street dog in Santiago, Chile, survives simply because worried residents provide him with care.

“The street dog culture there is completely different,” Tucker said, adding that the animals are a way to “bring a whole community together” — a goal for these festivals as well.

New York Cat Film Festival

October 16 at Village East by Angelika, Manhattan; catfilmfestival.com.

New York Dog Film Festival

October 24 at Village East by Angelika, Manhattan; dogfilmfestival.com.

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