A quintessentially American story of good intentions stifled by rampant bureaucracy.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” someone says in the absorbing docu “Mine,” and it proves quite the understatement: The grossly unfair, giddily complex and increasingly litigious process of reuniting so-called “Katrina dogs” with their owners, New Orleans-area residents who survived the storm but were forced to leave their pets behind against their will, is a quintessentially American story of good intentions stifled  by rampant bureaucracy. Winner of the nonfiction aud award at this year’s SXSW fest, the pic has the dramatic tension necessary to hold the arthouse screen, and should see clear sailing down ancillary waters.

Following the frantic rescue of pets from attics, rooftops and the omnipresent flooding, the animals were funneled to shelters throughout the United States and Canada. Trouble is, some workers at these sites were unaware that many rescuers forcibly separated pets from their owners, and believed they were doing the right thing by placing dogs with foster families — who, in turn, believed they were justified in taking these traumatized animals into their homes.

Eighty-six-year-old full-blooded Creole Malvin Cavalier was evacuated to the Louisiana Superdome and forced to leave his beloved Bandit behind; Sandra Bauer, a volunteer based in Canada, works to discover the dog’s fate as Cavalier builds a doghouse anticipating Bandit’s return.

Meanwhile, in the Seventh Ward, homeless advocate Jesse James Pullins actually sees his dog JayJay featured on a TV program. But as attempt after attempt to retrieve his pet fails, he ruefully concludes, “If you can’t pay a lawyer, there’s nothing you can do.”

One owner forges a life-changing bond with her dog’s new family, while another woman anguishes over the return of an animal on which she’s become emotionally dependent.

What emerges from these and other tales is a sense of helplessness and frustration, even for viewers not disposed to pet culture in general or dogs in particular. Credit helmer Geralyn Pezanoski and editor Jen Bradwell for clarity and pep in telling an ultimately inspirational story chock-a-block with activists, rescuers, owners and volunteers. As befits his name, which doubles as his approach to life, Cavalier has the last word following the closing credits.

Mine

Production

A Smush Media presentation, production. Produced by Geralyn Pezanoski, Erin Essenmacher. Directed by Geralyn Pezanoski.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Jason Rhein, Arlo Rosner; editor, Jen Bradwell; sound designer, Marc Pittman & Sirius Sound; associate producer, Alison Pezanoski-Browne. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, June 2, 2009. (In SilverDocs Film Festival, Silver Spring, Md. -- Silver Spectrum; SXSW Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Malvin Cavalier, Victor Marino, Jesse James Pullins, Linda Charles, Gloria Richardson, Georgette Morgan, Karen O'Toole, Jane Garrison, Rob Stone, Judah Battista, Susan Simons, Ellen Brantley, Ron Vitt, Debbie Musgrave, Mary Britsch, Janet Taylor, Tiffany Mansfield, Jeremy Mansfield, Sandra Bauer, Kathleen Higgins, Randy Turner.
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