Year of the Dogs

"Year of the Dogs" is a fast-paced, insightful look at the ups and downs (mostly downs) of a Melbourne football team over a 12-month period. After an enthusiastic response at local fest screenings earlier in the year, pic is now enjoying a high-profile release via Ronin Films, with bookings in Hoyts downtown cinema complexes in major Oz cities. A snappily packaged, briskly edited and emotionally satisfying entertainment, pic should prove excellent TV fodder internationally, as well as prime fare for fests with a documentary focus. Australian football (which is neither soccer nor American-style football) is traditionally played in the southern states of Australia; like similar sports around the world, it has its fanatical supporters, and the annual Australian Football League Grand Final match is usually attended by leading state and federal politicians. Filmmaker Michael Cordell chose to follow the fortunes of Footscray, a suburban club that achieved its greatest success in 1954 when it won the League Grand Final. But the Bulldogs, as they're popularly called, but have fallen on hard times.

The self-styled “battlers” of Australian football, the Bulldogs start the year with several matches in which they’re roundly defeated. Cordell takes his camera into the dressing rooms, training areas and board rooms as he follows the fortunes of these tenacious players and their supporters during what proves to be a terrible year. There’s a change of coach, injuries, illness and heavy financial pressures.

Cordell manages to shape this material into a suspenseful and intriguing saga that should entertain even non-fans. He succeeds in humanizing the players and the people around them so that even the uncommitted viewer gets wrapped up in the Bulldogs’ struggle for the elusive football crown.

A major factor in the film’s success is the concentration on two of the Dogs’ most loyal and fanatical supporters, Pat and Jenny Hodgson, a mother and daughter who never miss a match. Cordell makes the phenomenon of the public’s obsession with football, and the intense identification with a favored team, understandable and even logical.

Apart from the well-filmed action scenes on the playing field, a highlight is a fundraising evening at a nightclub where team members wind up doing a “full monty” in front of excited female fans. But there is no happy ending for the Bulldogs, as pic’s closing titles contain follow-up info about some of the key characters.

Year of the Dogs

Australian

Production: A Ronin Films release (in Australia) of a Bondi Picture co-production, with the assistance of the Australian Film Finance Corp. and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Produced, directed by Michael Cordell. Executive producer, Dasha Ross. Co-producer, Chris Hilton.

Crew: Camera (color), Cordell; editor, Stewart Young; music, Scott Saunders; sound, Tom Bodycomb. Reviewed at Leura screening room, Leura, Sept. 27, 1997. Running time: 89 MIN.

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