‘Dogs on the Inside’ Directors On the Beauty of Second Chances
Touching documentary Dogs on the Inside follows the mutually beneficial relationship between inmates at a Massachusetts correctional facility and rescue dogs as they help each other move on from their dark pasts and give life a second go. Don’t Throw Us Away is a program that delivers abused, abandoned dogs to the inmates and sets up a training regimen that forges a bond between dog and handler that makes life better for both parties. Co-directed by Brean Cunningham and Doug Seirup, the doc has a soothing quality to it, shedding light on a story that inspires hope and love for animals and humans alike.
We spoke with the directors about what they learned while making the film; feeling at home in prison; how they found Don’t Throw Us Away; the kind hearts of the inmates; their favorite moment in the film; and more.
Dogs On the Inside is available now on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant, VUDU, and dogsontheinside.com
The movie’s really sweet. What have people’s reactions been to it?
Doug: People have said they were inspired, touched…it’s a sweet movie. People just feel better in general.
It was almost therapeutic for me to watch the inmates interact with the dogs. Did you have a similar experience in making the film?
Doug: It really was. We filmed at a prison obviously, and when you think prison, you wouldn’t think you’d feel at home, but that’s exactly what we felt. I think it was therapeutic in a sense, because we were able to see the bond between the dogs and the inmates, and we built relationships with the inmates and played with the dogs all day. It was absolutely therapeutic.
Brean: There are the stresses of making a movie, and there’s a therapy to accomplishing different milestones along the way, like being able to get into the prison after nine months after waiting and going through the red tape. Like any movie, there’s a story behind the story, and I think to get the reception we’ve gotten, with people saying they want to go home and hug their dog, that’s a beautiful thing.
The thing Don’t Throw Us Away has got set up is sort of ingenious, with the prisoners and dogs having such a symbiotic relationship, helping each other get through hard times.
Brean: Doug and I wanted to make a movie about dogs because we love them so much. I looked around for a story and found Don’t Throw Us Away, the program that’s featured in the film. I contacted the owner and she loved the idea. We took the bull by the horns and took it from there. We were on the lookout for a story that would hold people’s attention, but also get the message across about second chances and hope and compassion.
A lot of documentarians, at the end of filming, find sifting through their mountain of footage to be a bit of an arduous process. But to be honest, I could watch footage of dogs playing all day!
Doug: It can be an arduous process, but this was a lot of fun to edit. Each of the inmates, the dog fosters in Mississippi–everyone we interviewed gave us a lot to work with, and as a documentarian, that’s the dream. It’s all heartwarming footage. At the end of the day, what makes it an easy process is that it’s all for the greater good. When you’re all working as a team, it makes the editing process the opposite of arduous.
Your subjects are great, especially Candido, who seems like such a nice guy.
Brean: He’s exactly the way he appears. We didn’t have to do much moving things around to present him differently. Everything he said was wonderful. We just spent two days with him as we were doing our rounds in New York for interviews and stuff, and he’s exactly the same. He’s a teddy bear, a gentle soul. He came from a tough life and made mistakes, but now he sees the error of his ways. It really is authentic. He’s a good guy.
What was your strategy for marketing and distribution of the film?
Brean: I sometimes marvel at where we are with the movie, because it is so competitive out there. There are a lot of people doing the same thing, trying to get a good story out there. But as far as our strategy for distribution goes, we always felt that, it’s one thing to make a movie about dogs, but it could be a piece of crap. We tried our hardest to do right by the dogs and the story and tell it the best way we could. We felt that our starting point was about helping dogs, that kind of gave us a good start in the dog market, which is pretty big. It isn’t like we’re covering this small, small subject matter that has very few followers. The potential for this movie is bigger than a lot of other movies because it’s about dogs, plus there’s the edginess of the prison setting. It’s an interesting combination.
Doug: Because the film not only focuses on the rehabilitation of the dogs, but of the inmates as well, it opens up a market and makes it even larger. It’s the thought of believing in second chances and humanizing people who have a bad rap.
Did you learn anything new about dogs in the making of the film?
Doug: I would say I learned to have more patience. Watching the dogs be trained by the inmates was eye-opening, in a sense. Seeing the inmates invest the love and time into the dogs and the dogs’ personalities come to life as a result was incredible. The dogs transformed from being timid and untrusting to laying on the grass, wanting their belly rubbed by their handler. Patience is the thing I learned.
Brean: The resilience of the dogs, how they overcame what they did, is amazing. There are so many similarities between the dogs and the inmates, and I think it’s instructive for people to see these pooches wagging their tale and being happy after coming from dire straights. They can apply it to their own lives.
My favorite moment in the movie is when Candido tears up talking about how he relates to these dogs in a way that’s deeper than language, in a way. What was a “eureka” moment for you while filming, where you thought, “This is going to be a key moment.”
Doug: That scene in particular is one of my all-time favorites. But I can also go to the scene with David and Mary when we filmed in Mississippi, where they pick up stray dogs off the street and put them in the back of that car. How we put that scene together drives home the importance of what the dog fosters are doing on the front lines. They need to be recognized for all the incredible work they’re doing with these dogs. That scene really comes together for me to show all the teamwork that goes into saving just one dog’s life. It’s a really powerful scene for me.
Brean: When Candido’s giving his dog a bath on what we call “graduation day”. It’s a quiet moment, and it was great to see how excited he was for his dog. That encapsulates the beauty of the program for me. People can expect a heartwarming story that’s full of hope, about a subject that’s usually a sad one. We set out to make a film about a story that deserves to be told. If you click that download button, you’ll be really happy.