Tragedy has a way of bringing folks together — for a while. In the past month, the Waldo Canyon Fire has catalyzed relief efforts from the entire city, and Will Stoller-Lee, director of the seven-year-old Windrider Film Forum, wants to keep the love flowing.
"I thought, 'Man, what's gonna happen is this sorta love-fest we got going on now, it's not gonna take very long to go back to the way it was,'" he laments, "'where the issues that divide us are kind of front and center and we forget about this moment where as a community we came together.'"
Stoller-Lee believes the 2011 film Red Dog, the first of two weekend showings that comprise this year's Windrider, is just the thing to sustain our rush of perspective.
"I thought a movie that talks about community might offer an opportunity for us as a community to say, 'Y'know, we're always going to have stuff that divides us, and yet ... what are the things we can take from [these moments of unity] and maybe change the tone of our debates?'"
Red Dog — Australia's answer to Balto — is the titular pooch found wandering the mining town of Dampier, endearing himself to a lonely place that needs a mascot and a friend. With heart-wrenching goodness and loyalty, he pulls viewers to the highest emotional peaks and weepiest valleys. But the balance is nearly perfect.
"[It] seems to be one of those rare films that speaks to everyone," says director Kriv Stenders from his home in Sydney.
This year's Windrider represents perhaps the only chance you'll have to view Red Dog as it was meant to be seen. While in Australia it grossed more than $24 million (in U.S. dollars) at the box office and became the third-best-selling DVD of all time, it hasn't translated well overseas. Showings at select theaters in New Zealand and England were met with critical warmth but cooler revenue numbers. As a result, the North American distributor has adopted a straight-to-DVD model, with even a limited silver-screen release in doubt.
And yet, with an 86 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and more film fest awards than shrimp on a barbie, Red Dog might be more the victim of marketing failure than anything else.
"The film isn't so much about a dog — it's about a community," says Stenders, adding, "The dog is this point of commonality around which they rally."
Leaving the screening, you're compelled to embrace your dog, and your fellow man. Which is exactly what Stoller-Lee wants to see.
"After a month of dealing with all the difficulty of the fires, it's OK to have sort of a cathartic release of laughter and joy ... You don't always have to have a very intellectual, serious look at things to still have an important discussion."