Directed by Stacey Stone
Short Documentary Film Review by Chris Olson
As an accompaniment to filmmaker Stacey Stone's insightful PTSD documentary My Own War, this short film bolts on with a perfect, and relevant, tangential story about the role of service dogs for sufferers of trauma. Following Lon Hodge, a Vietnam veteran who features in both of Stone's films, and his medically prescribed helper dog Gander, the audience is treated to nearly half an hour of wonderfully balanced and unashamedly emotional revelations about the essential part these canines play in the turbulent lives of PTSD victims.
The journey of Gander: America's Hero Dog as a movie is exceptionally enriched given the short running time. We see the various stages of the process in which a rescue dog is trained by prison inmates into a fully functioning service dog for a PTSD sufferer, then the impact Gander has on Lon, and the cultural importance the dog goes on to achieve. One of the most powerful aspects of this documentary film is how many lives are touched by the whole endeavour. From Lon, who absolutely adores Gander, as well as seeing him as a vital piece of medical equipment, to the prison inmates whose rehabilitation has been enhanced by the service dog programme. Medical experts also discuss the value of the relationship which forms, that patients often realise they need to look after themselves in order to look after the service dog, giving them an indispensable sense of motivation to stay healthy.
The use of various footage, animations and editing effects shows Stone applying a little more flair to this documentary than My Own War, revelling in the slightly lighter mood which permeates Gander: America's Hero Dog. This capability shows a superb skill set from the promising director, who tackles two massive, and inherently connected, topics with graceful mastery.
There are some excellent moments of social commentary which punctuate the movie, revealing some of society's more indecent attitudes towards the situation. Such as those who pretend to have a service dog in order to exploit the so-called "benefits", or institutions who refuse entry to Lon and Gander illegally, or demand to know Lon's illness. This morally abhorrent sector does not play an overwhelming part of the film, but do contribute a compellingly villainous element.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Gander: America's Hero Dog above.
Films that depict animals are always at risk of falling into a cute and cuddly niche that will remove the potency from any important messages or themes being highlighted. Stone sidesteps this excellently by steering clear of unnecessary fluff, instead layering on heavier emotional points and the poignant issues that surround the people.
A remarkable...ahem...tail, Gander: America's Hero Dog tackles some weighty topics with determination and vigour. Much like the courageous canine himself, the film is of huge value, especially when paired with the affecting feature documentary, My Own War. It seems Stone has carved a small monopoly on PTSD documentaries, luckily this is a filmmaker with a fervent voice and exceptional filmmaking prowess.