SXSW 2020: 'We Don’t Deserve Dogs' is Sublime Doggie Doc Heaven
by Alex Billington
March 16, 2020
"The way he looks at people. It's like… he understands. He looks into your soul, and understands." Dogs, man, they're the best. I love dogs. I mean – I LOVE dogs. My favorite animal. Always the cuddliest. Always the cutest. Always your best friend. Always. We Don't Deserve Dogs is a new documentary film made by cinematographer / director Matthew Salleh; produced by Rose Tucker. It was set to premiere at the SXSW Film Festival this year, though it deserves to go well beyond just that festival. This film joins the pantheon of all-time great dog documentaries, including the likes of Los Reyes and the Netflix series Dogs. It is a huge breath of doggie heaven fresh air. I loved every last second of it, and can't wait to rewatch it whenever I need a boost. It's an extraordinary feel-good look at how amazing dogs are and how humans connect with them.
I had a good feeling that this film would be something special, and I'm glad it is indeed wonderful. Even the pitch for it is pretty much perfect: "People need dogs, and perhaps they need us, but what do humans do to deserve the unconditional love they provide?" A good question. Of course, this film isn't meant to provide an answer. We Don't Deserve Dogs is a beautifully contemplative look at the wonder & glory of dogs. It's astute humanist storytelling combined with animal-loving storytelling at its finest. Interviews with various people from all over the world accentuate perfectly shot footage of dogs of all kinds. There's also a really emotional score that plays over the entire film – I am sure this will bother some viewers, but it hit me right in the heart and made me enjoy this experience more. All of the dogs are so, so amazing. I want to cuddle every last one.
It has all of these lovely moments of dog excellence and covers a wide range of different types of dogs & their jobs: from truffle hunters to adoptees to emotional support pooches to show dogs. The moment I knew this was complete and couldn't get any better is when they moved into the truffle hunting dogs, complimenting the outstanding doc The Truffle Hunters from Sundance earlier this year. And of course they also cover the celebration in Nepal known as Kukur Tihar, the day of the dog, as part of the five-day Tihar celebrations. Dogs are decorated with flower necklaces and colorful markings and treated like gods. It is a real testament to the filmmaking that they went all over the world to capture these universal aspects of dog culture. They even find Sudanese people who can only deal with trauma having a dog at their side. Dogs truly are the best.
The only kind of dogs not shown are working dogs: police dogs and helper / service dogs. But I think that's because they've been seen before in other films – Heddy Honigmanns' Buddy, for example. And the focus in this is on dogs as our friends. Salleh does make a brave decision to cover one topic that is horrifying, and it pains me to say it, but he needed to go there. If you watch closely, there's a point to that segment. Loving dogs and spreading that love worldwide is the only way to save more dogs. I could watch hours and hours of this kind of pure & lovely storytelling – endlessly intriguing people telling stories about why they love dogs so much and how they have changed their lives. My kind of cinema heaven. Perhaps humans don't deserve dogs after all. But they're a part of our world, and we must give them our respect. The same as they give us.