Slamdance Film Festival presents Doggy Love.
Mahmoud Ghaffari’s documentary premiering at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, takes a look at a rarely discussed yet sadly relevant and important topic. The film covers the problem of stray dogs running wild in Tehran, Iran. Here we follow Aslan and Yassi, a couple running an underground dog shelter with a mission to save as many of these hungry and sick animals as possible while also trying to make their dysfunctional and tumultuous relationship work.
Doggy Love is a documentary that makes us face the awful and brutal conditions these animals live in. Here the ‘fortunate’ dogs are saved from the streets and placed into an overcrowded shelter in the suburbs of Tehran. However, this is only a temporary solution, as food runs low despite the couple’s best efforts – eventually turning some dogs against each other in their concrete trap. In addition, many are badly injured or carry diseases that are impossible to cure due to the cost of medicine. Here we learn that there is no system or regulation to neuter stray dogs, which means the problem constantly regenerates.
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Ghaffari’s film is excruciating as we are placed in the utterly helpless position of watching these poor animals suffer, with no solution in sight to address the problem. Here the film does not shy away from showing the dark side of Aslan and Yassi’s job. Including the badly wounded dogs, they rush to local vets or those who die from their injuries. However, as gut-wrenching as these scenes are, they never feel excessive or sensational in construct. These scenes convey the hopelessness of the situation as we are forced to face the emotional impact of Aslan and Yassi’s work and sacrifice. While also demonstrating how devoted they are to their shared cause as they feed, comfort and even bury their growing pack with limited resources.
The film also explores Aslan and Yassi and their dysfunctional relationship. Here the couple constantly argues and criticises each other for picking up another dog when their shelter is already at capacity. Yet, their love of dogs and their willingness to change the current situation keep them together. Here Ghaffari’s film could have quickly descended into a relationship drama, but it never does. By not shifting the main focus to the couple’s relationship problems, Ghaffari makes the right choice in keeping our attention fixed on the plight of the stray dogs of Tehran.
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The roots of this seem unresolvable as we hear the perspective of both Iranian society and the government. Here we are faced with utter hopelessness in any social change. Much of this is related to an ongoing and active hatred towards stray dogs within society and an unwillingness to invest in shelters. Dogs are seen as being unclean and tortured and killed for religious reasons daily with the blessing of the government and local services. Taking these dogs in and caring for them, Aslan and Yassi are harassed and ridiculed by their fellow citizens. Once we see the obstacles they encounter daily, we realise how much of a Sisyphean task the couple face – one that is met with indifference, active resentment, and avoidance.
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Numerous topics are at play, given the film’s short runtime of one hour. Yet, the final few minutes prove most interesting as Aslan talks into the camera. Here he states that most of their sponsors are Iranian women who identify with the canines they rescue. Until this point, apart from showing the locals’ heartless attitude, the film does not express an overt criticism of either the government or society. Yet, these final few minutes are the real eye-opener as we learn that the torment faced by these animals is in many ways equivalent to the experience of many women. I can only hope these themes find a dedicated voice of their own in another film. Don’t be fooled by the title; Doggy Love is a tough watch. There is nothing cute or pretty about it. Yet, its realism and ugliness shed long-overdue attention to both human and animal rights in Iran.
Don’t be fooled by the title; Doggy Love is a tough watch. There is nothing cute or pretty about it. Yet, its realism and ugliness shed long-overdue attention to both human and animal rights in Iran.