Filmmakers Matthew Salleh and Rose Tucker embarked on a year long journey around the globe
to capture the special relationship between humans and dogs.
We Don’t Deserve Dogs is our second documentary film, following on from our 2017 debut Barbecue. We were very fortunate to travel the world to discover the unique bonds between dogs and humans.
In making this film, we wanted to explore not only the loving loyalty our four-legged friends give us, but also truly ponder the question of whether we, as humans, deserve the love that dogs can give.
Our journey took us to all corners of the globe. From shepherds deep in the mountains of Romania, to a day of dog worship in Nepal, there were many ways in which this unique connection was expressed.
We are completely independent, self-funded filmmakers. And whilst that created many challenges, it also allowed us to explore stories in a free and organic way. We worked with local researchers (dubbed ‘fixers’) to discover extraordinary characters, whose experiences impact the world they see around them. In northern Uganda, former child soldiers help rehabilitate street dogs; the intimate process helps them deal with the trauma and stigma of war. In Peru, pets are showered in an excess of love – a substitute for traditional family structures in a modern world. We were never duty-bound to any preconceived expectations of what a story would be. We simply let our subjects be the guide to how they see the world.
And all along, the real stars were the dogs. It was a delight photographing them, although it wasn’t always easy. We work as a crew of two, with Matt filming and Rose recording sound. We put a huge emphasis on authenticity – everything was filmed with natural light, and the complex soundscapes of each place were recorded by Rosie in incredible detail. A lot of time was spent chasing dogs up and down hills, and through winding city streets. It was exhausting, and very rewarding.
We also filmed in Cinemascope, a challenging frame to work with. Fritz Lang once said that Cinemascope was only good for filming snakes and funerals, but it’s good for filming people with their dogs too. Modern ‘gimbal’ technology also allowed us to follow the dogs at their level, flowing in and out of their world with Kubrickian accuracy.
One of the greatest challenges in our films is the complexity of language. We work hard to capture people’s thoughts in their own words. Back at home, editing in our one bedroom Brooklyn apartment, we worked with hundreds of pages of translated interviews. One of the most rewarding aspects of a film like this is the continuing work we did with passionate linguists, who would help us navigate through the nuance of thoughts and ideas. We would constantly discover gems in the details of words and phrases.
Our ‘two-person approach’ to filmmaking continued into all the elements of post-production. We both edited and graded the film together, and even mixed the film in surround sound (much to our neighbor’s chagrin).
Our other main collaborator was composer Blake Ewing, whose music carries throughout the film as a constant, reassuring presence. Our concept was to have a steady ‘heartbeat’ around which the film’s score ebbs and flows. That steady, elemental ostinato draws together the disparate stories from around the globe and provides a collective pulse.
We try with every one of our films to challenge the tropes and conventions of the subject matter. With this film, we wanted to avoid the cliché ‘cuteness’ of other dog documentaries, and try to elucidate the melancholy side of the relationship. The shade amongst the brightness. We also made an early decision to not stray away from the issue of dogs as a source of meat in Vietnam. A challenging story to capture, and a challenging story to watch, we felt it was essential to understanding the relationship between humans and animals. And as a person of Asian heritage, Matt also believed it was essential to explore what has become a pejorative, and often misconstrued stereotype.
The film was set to debut at SXSW in 2020 until its cancelation due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 was a brutal year for creativity, and it has been difficult to bring the film to larger audiences. But even with the challenges, we presented the film at over a dozen festivals. We have chosen to now release the film ourselves, and bring it to new audiences in a meaningful way.
In a way we see this film as a powerful reminder of the ‘before’ time, and hope through this film that our desire to see that a more connected world, fused together by mutual respect and understanding, will one day flourish again.
For us, We Don’t Deserve Dogs became about so much more than capturing the heart and soul of our furry little friends. It has become a way for us to express our view of humanity, in all its faults and virtues.
It was an incredible experience creating it.