Filmmaker Jesse Alk’s Pariah Dog hits the streets of Kolkata to take a cinematic look at the dogs who call the alleyways and roads home.
Most-likely to be classified as a documentary, Alk’s film is more experiential in nature than your average doc. Eschewing a traditional voice over or explanatory talking head interviews, Alk instead immerses audiences directly into the world of these lowly dogs and the people who love and care for them. There’s no background context, just the people and dogs here to tell their story in a fully immersive way.
One thing that Alk’s film does set straight is that these are not stray dogs. This isn’t just a street dog version of the popular Turkish cat doc Kedi. These pariah dogs – also known as a Desi dog — are native Indian dogs and the story is as much about them as it is a study in loneliness of the humans who live parallel to the canines and on the sidelines of society at large.
Like the dogs, the people in Pariah Dog are also living on meagre means, and yet, still sharing what little they have with their canine companions, even if all they can offer is compassion. The human subjects share their ideas for the native dog population, even when it means running up against politics, violence and their own ostracism from the greater society.
“These animals are so trusting,” one of the film’s subjects says. “They don’t realize how human beings can destroy them, and destroy other human beings as well.”
As in traditional nature docs, there’s a fine balance between bearing witness to natural events and the human instinct to interfere and help out a situation. In one of the film’s more harrowing moments, a small, struggling puppy weaves onto the road as the camera rolls. In a move of divine intervention, a boy swoops in to guide the pup out of the way and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
With top-notch cinematography, Pariah Dog offers a snapshot into life in Kolkata and not here to educate or advocate for drastic change when it comes to the native dogs. And that’s fine.
It’s no secret the writers of That Shelf are by and large cat lovers, but even cat lovers – and anyone with a soft spot for our furry friends – can buy into Pariah Dog.
The film previous made the festival circuit, winning Best Documentary Feature at the Big Sky Documentary Festival. Pariah Dog will be released on demand on August 18.