Maybe your mind is all made up about the devastation visited on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, and the victims, the villains, the lessons and the class and racial divisions that were so nakedly revealed. Maybe you think it's old news; a dead horse we should stop beating. Alas, the story is still unfolding. In Mine, San Francisco filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski returns to the scene of the crime and, with great grace and tenderness, insinuates us into the lives of a few people whose wounds have yet to heal.
Her entry point is the pets of New Orleans, in particular the thousands that were not evacuated with their owners. Some had previously endured ill treatment (as in any human settlement), some were abandoned, but most were reluctantly left behind. Like countless other Americans, Pezanoski went to New Orleans after Katrina -- out of an urgent desire to help in some way, and got involved in animal rescue. She also brought a camera, and began documenting what she saw.
Mine is a smoothly constructed roller-coaster ride that segues at the outset from the storm's horrific aftermath and the toll it took on animals to the heartwarming efforts to collect, feed and treat hundreds of pets and ship them to helpful, willing shelters around the country. A happy resolution, except for people like homeless advocate Jesse Pullins or 82-year-old Malvin Cavalier, who return after the water recedes and can't find their dogs. Rebuilding is difficult, but being deprived of their canine companions is excruciating. Meanwhile, the animals have been adopted, and those households don't want to relinquish the newest beloved family members.
Is the dog better off in its new suburban home in Northern California or central Florida? Of the owners/guardians, who has the more pressing need, or the better case? (This being America, lawyers are inevitably involved.) You will assuredly have an opinion about all three of the stories that Pezanoski follows -- it's only human -- and your biases, judgments and, yes, prejudices may come as an unwelcome surprise.
Without rancor or vilification, Mine offers rubber-meets-the-road evidence of Jean Renoir's immortal dictum, uttered in his masterpiece, Rules of the Game: "The terrible thing in life is that everyone has his reasons." Only a Solomon could fairly resolve the disputes in Mine, especially when the truth of another aphorism becomes apparent: "No good deed goes unpunished." Pezanoski allows in interviews that her ability to evenly balance both sides has a lot to do with her own adoption of a New Orleans rescue animal (which she named Nola).
I suppose that pet owners will have the most visceral response to this seductive, engrossing film, although the love, loyalty and need on all sides comes through potently enough to gut-punch any viewer. (As evidence of its efficacy as a crowdpleaser, Mine won the Audience Award when it premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival last spring.) Mine is not, nor does it pretend to be, the definitive documentary on post-Katrina New Orleans. But it is a rich, satisfying and provocative film that leaves us with a smidgen of hope for the American character, if not the American dream.
Mine opens Friday, January 8, 2010 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia) in San Francisco.