It would probably take a far more avid dog lover than me to take for granted the emotional bond between man and canine necessary for a full appreciation of Mine, but either way Geralyn Pezanoski’s doc about the efforts to reunite Hurricane Katrina victims with their lost pooches is pretty soapy stuff. While the forced separation of evacuees and their pets has to measure pretty low in the ranks of the tragic consequences of the nation’s costliest natural disaster, for the film’s central subjects (a quartet of survivors who lost their homes and suffer from a crippling sense of displacement), the thought of their lost animals’ return represents an understandable ward against despair. “I never thought I’d lose Bandit the way I did,” laments 86-year-old Malvin Cavalier, a lifelong New Orleans resident who, like the film’s other subjects, returns to his devastated property to find his dog evacuated and his whereabouts unknown. But while the direct testimony of Malvin and his fellow survivors, as well as their documented efforts to track down their pets, provides the film’s emotional center, it’s undermined by Pezanoski’s ugly functional aesthetic, her frequent (and frequently unilluminating) interviews with animal rights activists, and her penchant for tugging on some of the same heartstrings as those adopt-an-abandoned-pet infomercials.
Switching her focus about halfway through the film, Pezanoski moves from the despair of the Katrina residents to the legal wrangling over the disputed claims made on the animals by their original owners and those who have adopted their supposedly “abandoned” pets. For awhile, this leads to a welcome dose of ambiguity as several talking heads put forth the possibility that many of the Katrina pets weren’t neutered or properly medicated and might benefit from a change of location. However much the argument reeks of race and class condescension, it no doubt applies to those animals rescued from truly deplorable conditions and it at least opens up a multiplicity of viewpoints lacking from much of the rest of the film.
As the remainder of the movie documents the efforts of its central subjects to regain custody of their animals, Pezanoski intriguingly suggests the way that people use pets to compensate for their losses, but she still accepts the all-consuming importance of the man-canine relationships as a given. So that even as she acknowledges the greater devastation of Hurricane Katrina (in ways done much more effectively in earlier documentaries like Trouble the Water), she continues to posit the loss of a pet as the film’s chief tragedy and the string-slathered reunion of owner and dog as its central triumph. After all the survivors have been through, it certainly wouldn’t do to begrudge them the small solace provided by the return of a beloved companion, but I’m not sure that by focusing so much on animals, Pezanoski doesn’t cheapen the plight of the humans—the film’s subjects included—who suffered losses far greater than a misplaced pooch.