Spotlight on dog overpopulation and abuse in Mexico
Still on the doggy theme of last week here on La Plaza, a documentary screening in Mexico City over the weekend focused on how Mexico deals with the thousands of stray dogs roaming its streets. And no, it did not paint a pretty picture.
La Cineteca Nacional, the city’s most important venue for art and international cinema, played host to the Saturday-night screening of "Companions to None (Companeros de Nadie)," the first full-length documentary from Dallas-based director Bill Buchanan.
The hourlong film is an unflinching commentary on the overpopulation of stray dogs in Mexico, who even outnumber us humans in some regions. Macho culture, argues Buchanan, goes some way to explaining why Mexicans are so reluctant to sterilize their male dogs. There is a common belief in Mexico, according to his narrative, that sterilizing a male dog will make the dog "gay."
Without a doubt, the most impressive thing about the film, shot on digital video, is the access Buchanan gets for his lens. In a series of gruesome shots that even the most hardhearted will find difficult to watch, Buchanan’s camera captures the method used to rid the streets of the thousands of unwanted stray dogs in Mexico -– electrocution.
“That took a year to get permission for,” he said in a telephone interview this week.
He also documents a training class in which vets are instructed on how to carry out a more “humane” form of euthanasia via injection, the footage of which is simply heartbreaking.
Although “Companions to None” leaves little doubt about the brutality to which stray dogs are exposed on the rough streets of Mexico, Buchanan is realistic in his approach to the issue in a country where poverty and human suffering are rife. He wisely tackles the theme as one that affects, as well as reflects on, Mexicans, arguing that control over the dog population in Mexico is a public health issue, as well as a moral one -- an argument that is very compelling.
But problems securing a wide distribution for the film may obstruct the diffusion of what is an important message. Buchanan said American networks such as Animal Planet, Discovery and HBO passed on broadcasting the documentary and that a deal with TV Azteca –- one of Mexico’s two main commercial broadcasters –- fell through.
Appearance on the other main TV network, Televisa, is possible, but it would depend on Buchanan and his team finding a sponsor first, which they haven’t yet. They have, however, signed a deal with LAPTV (Latin American Pay TV), a network that is a joint venture by Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and DreamWorks.
Such caution from the commercial TV world is understandable. “Companions to None” makes for some hard watching, and it isn’t exactly “entertaining” programming. Likewise, the majority of cinemagoers are often seeking escapism, not a cold, hard slap in the face, so interest from commercial cinema networks in Mexico is likely to be low.
The film has, as least, been made and is easily accessible to those who want to see it. The worthwhile activism that these sorts of documentaries represent often amount to preaching to the converted. But whereas it may not provoke the “fundamental shift in attitudes” of Mexicans toward stray dogs that the filmmakers are hoping for, it does at least bring into the spotlight a sorry tale of suffering and abuse that is impossible to forget.
You can watch the trailer for the documentary at the website http://www.companionstonone.com.
-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City
Photo: Dr Meredith Silverstein holds a puppy that had just been euthanized via injection in Monterrey, Mexico. The animal quickly falls asleep, and then its internal organs fail. Credit: http://www.companionstonone.com.