There are films that simply draw you in and demand that you give them your full attention.
Jesse Alk's Pariah Dog is such a film. Filmed over the course of three years in Kolkata, India, Pariah Dog beautifully captures a kaleidoscopic picture of the city, four particular outsiders, and the pariah dogs that are central to the lives of these outsiders.
These pariah dogs, essentially neglected street dogs, have existed in the towns and villages of India for thousands of years. In an increasingly industrial nation, they have often been pushed aside left to roam alone or in packs and dependent upon the kindness of random strangers or those, like our cinematic subjects here, who take it upon themselves to provide care for them.
While Pariah Dog is a documentary, and an award-winning one, it's a non-traditional one that eschews the usual "talking head" approach in favor of something resembling cultural immersion. We become immersed in the lives of these street dogs, not to be confused with strays, and we become equally immersed in the lives of the rather lonely souls who seem to find both meaning and companionship through the care that they provide.
Pariah Dog kicks off quietly yet powerfully, one dog in particular a solitary presence in an urban setting howling a lonely, uncomfortable howl not far removed from a pack that seems to fervently reject his presence. It's sad to watch, one of several downright sad yet incredibly honest scenes in the film, but it's absolutely mesmerizing in its beauty and in the way it complements the film's capturing of a similar loneliness and isolation existing within these dogs' human counterparts. Both dogs and humans live rather simply, some having had their glory days while some others hoping theirs is yet to come. These humans, often with very little to share, share what they have openly and are passionate about these animals and doing what they can individually and systemically to protect them.
Pariah Dog had its world premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival where it picked up the fest's Best Feature prize. After nearly a couple dozen festivals and several other prizes, the film is now available for viewing via digital/VOD including Amazon Prime and your other usual streaming outlets. The film is the first feature film for Jesse Alk, son of documentary editor/filmmaker Howard Alk, and it's the kind of film that can't help but make you excited about his future projects.
Pariah Dog is beautifully lensed by Alk and co-written by Koustav Sinha and captures a story told memorably through both imagery and the lives that come alive vibrantly on the screen. At times exuberant and at times heartbreaking, Pariah Dog is a must-see for animal lovers and the kind of lovely, emotionally honest indie film that is perfectly deserving of your time as the holiday season arrives, the winter sets in, and we are reminded by a pandemic how vital it is that we care for one another.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic