Film Review: Year of the Dog

If you go down to the streets today…

We’re big fans Velvet Joy Productions here at FLUSH, an independent film studio helmed by director/producer/social activist Paul Sng, we’ve been constantly inspired by the seemingly off kilter stories they have regularly brought to our attention. Though they may on first glance feel like subjects that are somewhat mistakenly appear niche, but they all end up intrinsically and deeply woven into the very fabric of our society, and ultimately, regardless of the subject, are about our society.

In ‘Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain’ (2015) via the British tour of an ever socially vigilant and vocal band Sleaford Mods, we not only got to see sterling performances as their careers blossomed, but we got to see what they sang about, the areas they were from, and their fans were from, and we got to see the horrific effects of the actions of the Conservative government had and continue to have across the UK.

These economic observations continued in 2017 with ‘Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle’, a devastating look at the housing system in the UK, where it was extremely clear that all the major political parties were in the pursuit of money above any concept of care or responsibility for the population.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (2021) brought a much-needed focus to singer Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, and her phenomenal contributions, inspirations to punk, feminism, while also dealing with race, racism, mental health and relationships, that were all behind and in her music.

Now continuing that incredible trait of bringing light to topics that after seeing the films, we wonder why it hasn’t been done before, we have ‘Year Of The Dog’ (2021), which focuses on something that’s right in front of us nearly every day, but we generally chose not to see, homelessness.

It’s often splashed across headlines and generally perpetrated in media, that the UK is a nation of animal lovers. Which of course is hysterically at odds with the existence of fox hunting and any such blood sports. Aside from that disgraceful fact, it was reported that 3.2 million pets were bought during lockdown in the UK. Not all dogs of course, but that is an incredible amount nonetheless. We will definitely all know someone who got a dog, or indeed may have got one ourselves, but one thing that is absolutely in common, we all recognise the therapeutic aspects of spending time with our furry friends.

It’s that aspect that is at the heart of ‘Year Of The Dog’, where Simone Marie Butler (bassist for Primal Scream, radio presenter/DJ) and the Velvet Joy team hit the streets to bring light to the lives of the rough sleeping community, and their pets, who are often their last lifeline back to humanity. It’s all guided by the expert caring hands and experience of Dogs On The Street, a charity body that provide friendship, humanity, support and treatment for street dogs and their homeless owners.

The film had commenced filming just prior to the emergence of covid, and the eventual lockdown, and it has been (as with all of modern life) significantly affected by the restrictions it necessarily imposed. The opportunity to hear the words from the individuals themselves has been severely hampered, but the message thankfully still gets through despite the obstacles.

Following Simone’s journey into this world that everyone ignores, we learn of the wide-ranging ramifications of social policies, and societies indifference, though bizarrely not when comes to sweeping biased judgements of these folk. One of the most film’s most potent moments being when a somewhat aggressive and ill-informed individual decides to pontificate at the Dogs On The Street team while they are providing for some people on the street. It used to surprise me that the most ignorant about any subject, are always the loudest.

Dogs On The Street adamantly show that these dogs are wonderfully cared for by their owners, and why wouldn’t they be, often being their soul and sole companion. They are incredibly well trained, loyal, healthy, clearly happy and well behaved, which can’t be said about dogs trapped in small homes all day, the film does a fine job of wiping away ignorant judgements that are clearly held by some.

The story does suffer from lack of access, which is understandable, and feels more like an introduction rather than a complete piece. But that is often key to the previous works by this team, bringing focus to a subject, but continuing to support the message well after the title cards have rolled, and that’s the important part, changing the way we think.

The Year Of The Dog has a limited cinema presentation happening at the moment and in coming weeks, with additional Q&As with director Paul Sng, founder of Dogs On The Street Michelle Clark, Simone Marie Butler, and Professor Danny Dorling at various events.

Details of the screenings can be found here: https://linktr.ee/yearofthedog and further information about Dogs On The Street: https://dogsonthestreets.org/

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