News And Politics

'Street Dogs' documentary features survival skills of LA strays

March 19, 2012, 3:51 p.m.

(CREDIT: Bill Marin and Vincent Ueber) Elsie is the main character in the documentary film. She lives on the streets with her puppies.

"Street Dogs of South Central," an 85-minute documentary that premiered on Animal Planet last month, follows the lives of stray dogs in South Central Los Angeles. The film focuses on one canine family; a black lab mix called Elsie (named after the street she was found on) and her group of puppies as they search for food, water and a safe place to sleep.

The film was shot over the course of three years, from 2004 to 2007, on a variety of South L.A. streets and in housing projects including Imperial Gardens and Nickerson Gardens.

The film was produced by Vincent Ueber and Rene Duran and directed by Bill Marin: The three drove around in a car labelled "Street Dog Survey" and accumulated hundreds of hours of footage on their Mini-DV camera.

"We wanted to show from the dogs' perspective what it was like to live on the streets," Ueber said.

At the time of the filming in the early 2000s, Ueber said there were approximately 30,000 stray dogs living in Los Angeles. These numbers seem to ring true today as well: According to the L.A. Department of Animal Services, more than 35,000 dogs were taken into their custody between March 2011 and February 2012. This number continues the steadily increasing trend of L.A.'s stray or homeless dogs.

The creators of the film wanted to make "Street Dogs" in the form of a nature documentary, purely observing the dogs in their environment without feeding, petting or influencing their daily life. This removed approach created some controversy, Ueber said -- some viewers were angry they didn't do more to help the pooches or offer solutions to the overall issue. If the dogs were extremely mangy or sick, the trio would call animal services, but otherwise "we didn't create anything -- we just filmed," said Ueber.

Brenda Barnette, general manager of L.A. Animal Services, said she saw a clip of the film and would describe it as a "dramamentary" aimed at raising "some awareness for the plight of stray dogs."

"That was exactly our intention," said Ueber. The movie didn't try to make a political point or take a certain social stance, but merely offer a glimpse into this very real facet of city life.

Although collecting the footage was finished in 2007, it wasn't until 2012 that the film began to gain speed again.

LionsGate got involved and recruited Queen Latifah to narrate the "Street Dogs" film. Animal Planet played the movie on their network, but the filmmakers were unhappy that Animal Planet split the film into two different segments, re-edited it and cut out a lot of the original sound design.

Ueber added that seeing "Street Dogs" this Thursday at the International Family Film Festival will be a completely different experience than watching it on TV. The screening is at 4 p.m. at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood.

Although "Street Dogs" was shot mostly in South Central, Barnette said that South LA as a whole probably does host a large portion of the city's stray dogs.  

"Many of the dogs seem to have familiar yards that they return to," she said in an email. "We have the feeling that people do feed these dogs but they can't always afford the medical care or the dog license so they don't admit that they 'own' the dog."

Ueber added that this same film could be made in almost any major metropolitan city because every one has a population of street dogs and cats.

"You can make this film in Atlanta," he said. "You can make this film in Detroit."

To see a preview of "Street Dogs," watch the trailer below:

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