To the editor:

As a volunteer for the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival since its 2004 debut, I invite our community to attend this wonderful annual event.

Twenty-five documentaries will be shown this year; of these 25 engaging films, 20 of their respective filmmakers will be in attendance! The festival occurs from Friday, Sept. 13, through Sunday, Sept. 15, at both the Firehouse Center for the Arts and at The Screening Room. An opening night reception and “after parties” add to the festival’s fun.

This year, I am honored to be the film advocate for “Pariah Dog,” an award-winning documentary that shines humanity’s spotlight on the street dogs of Kolkata (Calcutta), India, and on the individuals who care for them. Both the dogs and their human caregivers live on the fringes of Kolkata’s consciousness — “pariahs” of the society they occupy. Kolkata itself is teeming with people and noise; it’s hard to imagine that this heavily urbanized landscape was once natural habitat for these dogs — who are not strays, but are a native Indian breed whose ancestry dates back 1,000 years.

Industrial expansion has left the dogs isolated in the midst of Kolkata’s overwhelming cacophony. The isolation experienced by the dogs’ caregivers, as they perform selfless acts of kindness to their city’s canine pariahs, is explored in parallel for a meshed story line in this compelling film.

Volunteer dog rescuers from our area’s many rescue organizations should see “Pariah Dog.” So should local cat rescuers. Not too long ago, Newburyport’s boatyards (and a few in-town locations) were populated by colonies of community (heretofore, “feral”) cats.

Dedicated caregivers from the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society fed these cats twice each day, provided shelters, and ensured the cats were sterilized and inoculated against disease. While our Southern states (where many of New England’s rescue dogs originate) and the boatyards of Newburyport are a long way from Kolkata, local animal rescuers will be able to relate to the plight of Kolkata’s street dogs and to their rescuers’ inherent need to help.

Animal rights advocates should also see this film. Scenes that might seem innocuous to some viewers will be jarring to you. Fortunately, “Pariah Dog” filmmaker/director Jesse Alk will be in attendance to host a Q&A with the audience, and to provide any back stories, following the film’s screening.

Finally, anyone who can empathize with the marginalization and suffering of our fellow sentient beings should see “Pariah Dog.” “Pariah Dog.” Sunday, Sept. 15, at 1:45 p.m. at Firehouse Center for the Arts.

Kathleen Downey


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