Dog Days (2013)

Dog Days

Directed by Laura Waters Hinson and Kasey Kirby, U.S., 2013

By D.G. McCabe

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the DC premiere of Dog Days.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the subject of the film is the world of sidewalk vending in Washington, DC.   The story begins with Coite, a young entrepreneur with a good idea – work with local sidewalk vendors to vary their menus.

On first glance, this may seem easy – after all, who doesn’t like variety in their menu?  There are many obstacles to this idea coming to fruition, however.  There is the byzantine commissary/depot structure that sidewalk vendors have to work with, an endless moratorium on new permits, and competition from both a powerful restaurant lobby and the new food truck craze.

What I liked most about the film is how well it handles all sides of its subject matter.  Like any documentary, the film spends a lot of time with its two main subjects: Coite and his first customer, sidewalk vendor Siyone (who has quite a remarkable story). In addition, the directors also took the time to interview other sidewalk vendors, food truck operators, restaurant industry lobbyists, and depot operators to paint a complete picture of the world they are showing the viewer.

There is no voiceover or narration, and the audience is left to draw their own conclusions from the footage being shown.  No documentary is completely objective (despite the dreams of Dziga Vertov), but I always appreciate it when a documentary respects its audience’s intelligence enough not to spoon feed its ideas to them.

The problem I have with most contemporary documentaries is that they tend to use manipulative techniques in an attempt to convince the audience of a certain point of view.  The films of many pop-documentarians are more Battleship Potemkin than Cinéma Vérité these days, and the entire genre has suffered for this.   Thankfully, there are still documentaries out there like Dog Days.

You might like Dog Days if: You like intelligently presented documentaries that use specific examples to explore broader themes about modern American life.

You might not like Dog Days if: You are a District of Columbia legislator – in that you will leave the theater realizing that there is no real justification for a 16 year moratorium on sidewalk vending licenses and being a legislator, you are not used to being told what you don’t want to hear.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe