In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast it left about 80% of New Orleans flooded. Approximately 1,800 people lost their lives and almost five years later the community is still rebuilding. There are not too many subjects that I continue to source out documentaries on but Katrina and it’s aftermath has produced some great docs including Spike Lee’s epic, “When the Levees Broke”, and the 2008 winner for best documentary at Sundance, “Trouble the water”. With her debut feature film Geralyn Pezanoski adds to the growing collection of films about Katrina but instead of first person narratives Pezanoski focuses her lens on the pets left behind. Aptly titled “Mine”, which won the SXSW Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature, showcases not only the rescue efforts of these animals but the complications many pet owners faced when they returned home.
When the citizens of New Orleans were forced to evacuate, many people were not able to take their pets with them. According to the film, “in New Orleans alone, an estimated 150,000 animals died in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” Many of the animals that did survive were rescued by volunteers and shipped to shelters throughout the country. We meet a handful of people that have returned to New Orleans and are looking for their pets. Pezanoski does a great job finding subjects and shows a great amount of compassion when portraying their grief. 80-year-old Gloria was forcibly removed from her home after it had flooded because she would not leave her black lab named Murphy Brown. Jessi James rescued 20 members of his family but had to leave his dog JJ, short for Jessi Junior, behind. As they search for their dogs, all of which have been adopted by new families, we see the same discrimination that has been associated with the Katrina events unfold again. Many of them cannot afford lawyers to help with the return their animals. But, we soon see complex networks of people from around the country form that handle the daunting task of searching for one pet at a time.
The story itself is rather touching and as an animal lover it was hard not to be moved to tears several times. With that being said, the film may rely too heavily on the emotion of its characters more so than the filmmaking. Poor editing mixed with half hazard framing were probably my biggest complaints technically. More than anything, I felt that the movie did not flow smoothly. There was so much build up during the first three quarters of the film the last part just felt too much like a neat package being wrapped up. Just as in many of the circumstances of Katrina the film touches on racism and classism but not enough. When a white lawyer criticizes a black woman for leaving her dog behind he jumps to the conclusion that she did not care about her pet. When in reality she was faced with getting her children and disabled mother to safety first. Even if Pezanoski wanted to avoid an in depth discussion on these subjects there were still issues I wish she touched on more. Who is considered an ideal pet owner? After years of searching do the victims of Katrina still have rights to claim their lost pets?
“Mine” directed by Geralyn Pezanoski
The Gene Siskel Film Center
164 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60601-3505