In preparation for this year's Thin Line festival, we spoke with the director and producer of one of our most-anticipated documentaries, Unleashed! A Dog Dancing Story. It's literally a documentary about people who dance with their dogs. Oh, and there's kites involved, too, because why not? Justin Turcotte and Ben Mallin, director and producer, respectively, are making their way down from Canada to be in attendance for the world premiere of their documentary in Denton, TX this Thursday, February 13th. Like many of you, our only exposure to the small sect of humanity that looks at their dogs and think to themselves, "I should dance with that," had come through that one awesome episode of King of the Hill in which Bobby and Hank face off in a dog dancing competition. Thankfully, we can now expand our knowledge of the dirtiest dance through this new documentary about a troupe of amateur dog dancers as they work hard over the course of two years to create a performance that combines dog dancing and kite flying and take it to the people.
WDDI: How’s the weather up there in Canada?
Confusing. One minute it snows, the next minute it's pouring rain. One thing is for sure, we're not called the 'wet coast' for nothing.
What made you first interested in dog dancing?
Well, we love dogs but when we first heard about dog dancing it sounded entirely too crazy to be real. We attended our first dog dancing competition and met some of the personalities, along with their elaborate costumes and routines ranging from old timey chimney sweep numbers to clown costumes and circus music. The competition itself was fairly underwhelming, but when they told us about this big show they were planning with indoor kite flying and gods fighting each other in caves, we knew there was a story there that needed to be told... Immediately.
What did y'all seek to reveal about the world of dog dancing through your documentary?
Going into the project we were interested in examining the bond between dog and handler, as well as the mindset of these folks who spend all of their free time working on foxtrots and spins with their dogs in the garage. Most people would write these dog dancers off as crazy, but we quickly realized that there's a lot more to them than their strange hobby. The story kind of organically grew from there into something much bigger than just the dog dancing angle.
How do you toe the line and maintain professionalism when dealing with something that the vast majority of people would classify as “super weird?”
To be honest, the first few times we shot with the dog dancers we had a hard time not cracking up during the shoots. They were very hesitant at the beginning as well, having been the butt of a number of tongue in cheek news reports in the past. But after spending a lot of time with them they really warmed up to us and trusted what we were doing. We spent a lot of time really toeing that line, but from the outset we made a huge effort to portray what they're doing in a positive light and stay away from snickering at what they do ourselves. There's humour throughout the film, but a lot of that comes from them being able to laugh at themselves and what they do. There's also a very human element to all of the subjects in the film that really hits home and you really can't help but love these ladies by the time you're done watching. They're so dedicated to what they do that we wanted to really capture that. We also had the film scored by an indie composer that generally does projects of a little more serious nature, so that helped to keep the tone on point.
What was the best outfit you saw a dog dancing team wear during filming?
The group has a routine that they do to a Shania Twain song with matching stetsons and bright red silk cowboy cut shirts. It's brilliant.
Is this a sequel/prequel to that one Jet Li movie also called Unleashed from 2005?
Our film is obviously the spiritual successor to the Jet Li flick. Still not sure how Morgan Freeman fits in though...
What do you see in dog dancing's future?
The future of dog dancing looks to be very bright. The mastermind Ray has a huge new project he's been working on for years now. To give you a hint it involves indoor kite flying, dog dancing, and contortionists. They're ready to knock the doors off this whole thing.
Do you have a dog yourself?
Strangely enough, neither of us have dogs. Ben grew up with dogs and we're both huge animal lovers, but we have basically been living with 20 pets by proxy while creating this project, so there's no shortage of dog hair and treats floating around us at any given time.
If someone forced you to dance with a dog, what song would you choose?
Thriller. We'll need a bit of practice before that happens.
Are y'all sticking around the for the rest of the festival?
You know we are! Really looking forward to Sebadoh, Brave Combo, AV The Great, Coney Island: Dreams For Sale, The Engineer, The Punk Singer, When Dallas Rocked, and of course the other dog documentary Spirit Of Sato. There are too many to even mention, but we're really excited to be playing alongside such an amazing lineup of films and musicians.
What subject do you fellas have your eyes on next?
There are a few things in the works that we're excited about and can hopefully share with the world very soon. We're working incredibly hard to find something more ridiculous than dog dancing to focus our efforts on.