I sat down with Cape Town Based Filmmaker Riaan Hendricks during my time at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. His new Documentary Wild Dog & Mrs. Heart looks into the euthanasia of perfectly healthy dogs. A heart wrenching story and tear jerker. It was a delight meeting and having a sit down with Mr. Hendricks, I had written a feature of his last Documentary The Devil’s Lair. Here is what he had to say of his latest film.
Nthabiseng Mosieane: Let’s talk about the Inception of your latest project, Wild Dog and Mrs. Heart.
Riaan Hendricks: One day I opened the newspaper and I read an article about the local animal welfare complaining that they have to put to sleep more healthy dogs than sick animals, every day. So I thought okay this sounds like an Interesting film so I approached them and they allowed me to film them. I didn’t think they would allow me to film how they euthanized the dogs. The cats and dogs, you look at these animals and you fall in love with them. It’s the nature of a pet, it’s a companion animal. They say a dog is a man’s best friend. So they allowed me to film, it was the beginning of a couple of months of working with them. It’s an Independent film and through the process I came to learn what this world is all about the animal welfare how they struggle to rescue animals and then if this dog does not get a home in the next month for example they will be euthanized and it is a lot of healthy animals that arrive at their door step and some people will leave their dogs and walk away, beautiful animals. So you film these people you film this world. You are not ready for what you are about to experience because it all seems to Innocent and at the end of the film the story is about euthanasia of healthy animals and at first I thought maybe it’s just a Cape Town thing and I went to google a bit and I realized actually it’s a global phenomenon. The animals are like a disposal Item, you use it, its new and has no scratches it makes you feel good. A little puppy grows a little too big and they just dispose them. It would be different if the animals were sick. I am not an animal rights activist, just telling you what the story is about.
NM: Why this topic? Why did you choose to go with this particular story line?
RH: I am an Independent filmmaker I don’t choose a subject. If it moves me it’s enough reason to go with it. It is a self-financed film, well the first part, the first five months of production and the subjects Interested me and I was moved by one or two of the people or I can find empathy with them. It is a good reason to follow through, to see what comes of it. I mean that is what I think Documentary film-making is about, it’s about the discovery of life and these people allowed me into their lives, into their emotions because a lot of them are tied down. They love animals they started working with them but their daily job in reality is putting these animals to sleep. In the film there is a veterinarian complaining that she went to University to study to help heal animals now what she does on a daily basis is put to sleep perfectly healthy animals. So yah it is the nature of the world.
NM: How long was the process, from beginning to end?
RH: The Documentary is a three and half year process. First it was just Independent film-making, take my camera and film and then there was a bit of a break because I could not raise the money to pay for editing. I could not afford the time to edit; I mean it takes me 3 months to edit a film so I could not afford to sit down for three months. The National Film and Video Foundation came in with money and that allowed me to be able to edit and complete the film.
NM: What is the current status on the film?
RH: The film is having its world premiere at Encounters Film Festival. From there it shall move to other film related opportunities that present themselves but it’s a very much a South African film in a sense.
NM: With The Devil’s Lair in terms of subject, it is quite different to the subject matter of Wild Dog & Mrs. Heart. Am I correct in saying that you do not follow a theme when embarking on your projects?
RH: Look as filmmakers we are authors, I am not moved by a subject. I am not a human rights activist so I am not going to make those films unless it really moves my heart. I am not an AIDS activist; I am not an animal activist. I am not doing films about anti-racism; I am not doing films about families. These are all subjects I touched on as life goes on. So as an author you expose yourself to people and in return they impact on you and return you put that impact into your work so it’s like a constant give and take process.
NM: Let’s talk about your shooting style?
RH: My work is Observational film-making it’s a preferred way of working. I think for me there is no difference in terms of audience, there is no difference for an audience of documentary cinema or an audience going to watch a feature film in the theatre. All of them are in search of meaning, they are in search of character that moves them and if you do observational filming it is a means of connecting audience directly to the character you don’t have to feed audience with Interviews it’s all live as it is. I mean audience are very intelligent creatures in the sense that they are more concerned of the characters response in the situation they want to read that, they don’t want to hear anything they want to read a character. So my films are focused on character building, character arcs, it’s like a straight forward three-act structure. Although it is a documentary it has the journey in place.
NM: Why documentaries? Why this form of storytelling for you?
RH: I just think it’s a part of life. I would’ve loved being a sailor and see the world, so I think it’s just life. One of those things I suppose.
NM: What current projects are you working on?
RH: I am currently working on a film feature film, part of what I am doing here in Cannes. It is called My Grannies kalashnikov, another word for an AK 47. Based on a true story of a forgotten freedom fighter. An old lady who takes care of herself and forty other orphans in her community by doing crime. She has unfulfilled dreams; she left her life for revolution. Her desires for materialism, she gave up for communism and all her ideals were just abandoned when South Africa’s freedom came and now she has been left poor because she has been swindled out of her pension. Old age is setting in and she can no longer take to crime, a bit of a comedy but with serious issues to it.
NM: What impact do you hope to make with the film?
RH: I don’t know. It’s a little bit of an art film; the problem with some of these documentaries is that you need to engage with it, you need to engage with meaning. So it’s more of a novel than a newspaper article so it has its audience. I do not know the Impact it will have. I know when I first started the process three years ago, I shot a seven minute version of it and left it on the Internet I tried to raise money and the first thing that happened was the national Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) threatened me saying that I could not make the film and if I continued I would end up in court. All this was in the newspapers. There is a crisis but they do not want to acknowledge it and by the time they want to acknowledge it, they want to have control over how it’s perceived. I know there a lot of issues maybe monetary for me to be threatened like that. I tried to have a positive conversation with them but there has been a lot of animosity.
NM: How much of a harsh reality is the film?
RH: Look the people who allowed me to film them do everything with love, they are not violent. Even the way the animal is being put to sleep, you will see my character whenever he is keeping an animal next to him he is always comforting and apologizing to the animal. The film is not graphic, it will probably make you cry, it’s an emotional subject and the people have invested their lives into something bigger than themselves. So it’s not a film that will make you angry, it will make you consider your choices.
Wild Dog & Mrs Heart makes its International debut at the annual Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival. In Cape Town at the V&A Cinema Nouveau on 7th June, 8PM. At The Bioscope Independent Cinema on the 9th June, 8PM.