Slamdance documentary ‘Doggy Love’ is an unflinching look at rescuing canines in Iran
Filmmaker Ghaffari exposes harsh realities of Tehran’s poverty
Don’t be fooled. The Slamdance documentary “Doggy Love,” by Mahmoud Ghaffari, isn’t a fun, fluffy work about the rewards of rescuing dogs in Tehran, Iran.
It chronicles the harsh and heartbreaking realities of pet owners and a pet-rescue organization in a country where the government sanctions the abuse and killing of thousands of canines a year under religious laws.
In 2010, Reuters reported that Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi issued a proclamation against dog ownership, and quoted him saying “Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West.” And for the past six years, Aslan Taheri and Yassaman GhaedPanah, in opposition to the proclamation, have run a shelter that is home to more than 250 dogs.
Ghaffari discussed the film during a question-and-answer session that is currently streaming during the 2022 virtual Slamdance Film Festival, and addressed why dogs are considered “haram,” a term that means “forbidden,” under Islam tradition.
“Because of the religious government, persons who support (dog) shelters don’t have any support from the government,” Ghaffari said through interpreter Mahsa Jarchi. “They not only work completely independently, but they may be faced with lots of problems from the government in their work.”
One issue is the fanatical aggression people are allowed to direct at dogs, which the film explicitly shows, to the point where dog owners are scared to even take their pets for a walk, he said.
Another issue is land ownership, according to Ghaffari.
“Most of the grounds the shelters are on are rented, and if (shelter managers) have any problem with the owner of this ground, they usually cannot go to any authorities (or the) church to ask for support,” he said. “It is completely prohibited.”
The Q-and-A moderator, Jonathan Berman, one of Slamdance’s documentary programmers, and professor at California State University at San Marcos, said one reason Slamdance selected “Doggy Love” is because Taheri and GhaedPanah reflect the film festival’s non-conformist principles.
“Yassi is on her own track, a very unusual woman, very driven, and has to deal with a lot of (issues) and pressures from her dog shelters,” he said. “Aslan as well, (is a) very unconventional character.”
Ghaffari first met Taheri after calling him for help with an injured dog he had found on the street.
“The dog was completely injured, and Aslan came to rescue the dog, without asking for money,” the filmmaker said. “Due to this, some kind of friendship (formed) between (us), and (I) got more curious about Aslan’s personality and job.”
After Ghaffari visited Taheri’s shelter, he decided to make “Doggy Love,” which is his first documentary.
“The environment of shelters in the suburbs are (like) working underground and the common people usually don’t know about the details going on,” the filmmaker said. “Because this movie takes place over one year, we were faced with lots of (situations) that not only (involved) the dogs, but also (conflicts with) the persons who have homes around the shelter. It was so heartbreaking for us.”
There were days that Taheri had to feed the dogs his own food, because the poverty that has risen in the past years due to Iran’s economic crisis prevented him from buying additional food for the dogs.
Berman said the film is ultimately about survival, and Ghaffari concurred.
“It’s not just for the dogs, but because the situation for both people and the dogs (living) in the suburbs are the same,” Ghaffari said. “The whole sense (of the film) could be included about people who are living in excessive poverty and are totally hopeless, because the government is (ruling in a more) totalitarian (way).”
In addition to the drama, blood and death of rescuing dogs, the film also follows the relationship between Taheri and GhaedPanah.
At the time of filming, Taheri was hopelessly in love with GhaedPanah, but she may have or may not have felt the same about him, which adds to the film’s conflicts, Ghaffari said.
“Aslan and Yassi had a complicated love story,” he said.
That love story, which unfortunately has come to an end, is symbolic of how the current population of Tehran feels today, which is something Ghaffari wants to show.
“They don’t have any life,” he said. “They don’t have any hope for the future nowadays.”
The 2022 virtual Slamdance Film Festival runs through Feb. 6.
For information, tickets and films, visit slamdancechannel.com.
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