If there’s one thing helping us get through 2020, it’s got to be dogs — or cats, if that’s your thing. Or maybe alcohol. But if you spend any time on the internet, it seems like cats have given up their crown of popularity to their slobbering enemies. It’s fitting then that we should have an entire documentary dedicated to those clueless, hilarious canines aptly titled after a popular internet phrase: We Don’t Deserve Dogs.
The documentary, directed by Matthew Salleh, is mercifully straightforward. He and his team have traveled the world to document the relationship between dogs and people from former child soldiers in Uganda to the local pub in a Scottish town. The stories themselves paint a picture of the variety of dogs as well as humans. Dogs are given to recovering child soldiers as a companion full of unconditional love when others ostracize them. A Muslim woman in Pakistan who takes in a stray, deemed an outsider because she is a lesbian and many believe keeping a dog as a pet prevents you from getting to heaven. A man in Vietnam explains the differences between pet dogs and dogs for consumption. A woman in Finland takes her emotional support dog to visit and cheer up disabled adults. It’s a fascinating and touching peek into lives in small pockets around the world, all united by a love of a dog’s companionship.
Traveling to at least ten countries, the documentary is a compilation of short videos, talking-head interviews with people about their relationships with dogs cut with B-roll footage. It’s easy to see how these may have once been imagined as short internet videos, slightly more polished and less cheesy than videos from The Dodo you see circulating on social media. That said, repeating the same style back to back, over and over again, leads to visual boredom and makes it easy to disengage from the stories being told, especially in the last half hour. A narration or a switch in style would have helped to create a more cohesive and compelling documentary. The film is presented with no text cards, leaving you completely in the dark and fishing for context clues when it comes to figuring out where each story is told. Though there are interviews with many people, you don’t get to learn their names.
Overall, many of the stories are united by themes of a dog’s unconditional love and lack of judgment. The humans we see often feel rejected by their fellow humans for being or feeling too different from everyone else, and yet dogs remain by our side no matter how we look or what we’ve done. It’s a touching tale of man’s best friend but not cohesive or compelling enough to create an outstanding documentary.
*This film was scheduled to screen at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, which was canceled amid COVID-19 concerns.