This film fest is for the dogs: Humane Society hosts fundraiser at Mahaiwe

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GREAT BARRINGTON — As the "dog days" of summer draw to a close, dogs of all breeds and sizes can be seen on the big screen at the Mahaiwe at the inaugural "Dog Film Festival" on Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., a fundraiser for the Berkshire Humane Society.

The two-part festival is a labor of love by Tracie Hotchner, radio pet personality and best-selling author of "The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know" and "The Cat Bible: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know."

"People are just crazy about their dogs," said Hotchner from her home in Bennington, Vt. "I had a show called 'Cat Chat' and about half the people that called in with questions were dog owners. What really impressed me was how profound people's experience was of their dog and how much they wanted to make that dog's life better."

The success of the Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, which attracts 10,000 feline fans each year, "made me realize that people who love a species of pet really wanted to have that experience together."

The Dog Film Festival's coast-to-coast 11-city tour follows a sold-out expanded presentation held last October at New York City's Symphony Space, and is supported by a grant from the Petco Foundation.

"We are excited to celebrate with all dog lovers and showcase these wonderful films that demonstrate the positive impact dogs have on people's lives," wrote Petco Foundation executive director Susanne Kogut.

Two separate 90- to 100-minute programs showcase short films lasting anywhere from 1 to 28 minutes. Films come from as far away as England and Australia, in languages including French, Spanish and Russian.

Both programs contain moving and humorous public service announcements, short documentaries, and highly imaginative stories featuring dogs. While all are suitable for children, the second program includes more thoughtful topics and subtitled films that will appeal to older audiences.

"There's a treasure trove out there of real film artists who ... had made all sort of movies: narrative, documentary, and art animation like you see in the Oscars," Hotchner said.

Selections in the first program include useful dog tricks, an animated look at what dogs are up to when owners aren't home, and a surfing service dog. A highlight is a 28-minute film starring four weimaraners in full costume filmed and narrated by acclaimed New York artist and breed champion William Wegman, who remastered the 1995 film especially for the festival.

"It was a big honor for me, we share an enormous love for weimaraners," Hotchner said, referring to her two "weim"companions, Maisie and Wanda.

"I'm on my sixth rescued weimaraner dog," she noted proudly.

Included in the second program are documentaries about a circus poodle trainer, female prisoners who train rescued service dogs, volunteers who transport dogs from a struggling southern shelter to welcoming homes in the northeast, and a New York City dog walker with more than 30 canine charges.

"I think there's a lot of very deep and moving ideas in there as part of what's entertaining and fun and delightful," Hotchner said. "It's sort of an emotional carpet ride."

She is already preparing for a second compilation due to be screened in NYC in October. "I'm looking backward and forward at the same time," she noted.

She has dedicated the festival to her godmother, the late Joan Rivers, who through her unconditional love for her rescued dogs served as a role model and inspiration.

As it does on each stop of the tour, the Dog Film Festival will contribute $5 from each ticket sold to the local Berkshire Humane Society, and sponsors Halo, Purely for Pets and Freekibble.com will also donate 10,000 bowls of pet food to the shelter, which depends on fundraising and contributions for its operating expenses.

"With the enthusiasm and passion people have around here for their canine companions, I'm hoping it's going to be a sellout," said Berkshire Humane Society executive director John Perreault. "This money will go right back into the community and help animals in need, and I can tell you that food will go toward feeding a lot of hungry animals."

The shelter will bring dogs available for adoption to the Mahaiwe for the film festival.

"They'll have had a bath and been groomed," Perreault said, "and be ready to showcase their talents."

If you go ...

What: Dog Film Festival

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Castle Street, Great Barrington

When: Sunday, Aug. 14 at 11 a.m. (Program 1) and 1:30 p.m. (Program 2)

Cost: General Admission $15 adults, $10 children each program

Tickets & Information: www.mahaiwe.org (413) 528-0100 www.dogfilmfestival.com

Donations are welcome to Berkshire Humane Society berkshirehumane.org (413) 447-7878.


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