Hot Docs Review: Pick of the Litter [Don Hardy Jr., Dana Nachman, 2018]

Pick of the Litter

Put down your smartphone, and spend an hour outdoors. You’ll likely start to notice how modern Homo sapiens are increasingly useless without a plethora of gadgetry to keep track of the minutiae of daily life. What happens if those gadgets now have minds of their own? Do you keep running try-outs until you find the match-made-in-heaven? Will yours be called “Jarvis” like millions other?

Of course I may be talking about artificial intelligence … but not just yet. Man’s best friend is our most ancient, living breathing smart gadget. Pick of the Litter follows 5 puppies born in the same litter as they move up through our world, blissfully unaware of their destiny as faithful companions lounging on a sofa all day, working dogs in many other duties, or guide dogs. The non-profit organization Guide Dogs for the Blind breeds, selects and ultimately pairs vision-impaired folks with trained dogs to give them some semblance of normality and mobility. Keeping themselves and their handlers alive being of the utmost importance, guide dogs need to display a certain aptitude, and hence genetic disposition, proper upbringing, and focused training are all necessary components that must be put together properly.

This is a straightforward and delightful documentary. The dogs are the stars here, of course. Details of their training are bizarre yet irresistible. For example, running a sedan directly into the trainer/dog at crosswalks would not have been my idea of experiential exposure – but that is exactly the type of behind the scenes info one wants. And of course, watching the dogs grow and their personalities blossom is immensely interesting. Those faces the dogs make as they (pretend to) ignore cookies placed in front of their snout are quite hilarious to witness. Having never had any pets, however, I don’t think I can fully understand how volunteers could be excited about the prospect of raising/socializing a puppy to train-able age, only to cut loose months later. It sounds more than anything like a recipe for heartbreak. It is also baffling to see that, like parents of pre-med students, some volunteers even attach a level of pride and self-worth to whether the puppy they helped raise becomes guide dog. Puerile egotism aside, Pick of the Litter is an easy film to recommend to kids of all ages – and all for a noble cause.

Screenings:
Fri, May 4, 1:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 6, 3:15 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs

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