DBW: What moved you to create your documentary Prison Dogs about prison inmates, who train service dogs to support veterans with PTSD? What’s at the heart of the film?
GG: We were looking for a prison reform story. This story resounded with us because it really focused on second chances, not just for the men who were incarcerated but for the veterans too. That the vehicle was something you wouldn’t think of — a puppy — for healing and for the inmates to give back and the veterans to regain their lives — was a full story.
PP: It’s difficult to tell stories about prison inmates. Access is always a challenge and people have many things they need to worry about — people who are being punished for wronging society are often low on the priority list. But for so many reasons, we need to understand how best to rehabilitate our prison populations. Geeta and I thought this story would serve as a great way to put a human face on the unacceptably high recidivism rates that plague our country.
DBW: Where have you screened Prison Dogs? Have you had a chance to show it to prisoners or veterans? If so, how have they received the film?
PP and GG: We’ve screened Prison Dogs at the following festivals, Tribeca Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Portland Film Festival, Skyline Indie Film Fest, Austin Revolution, Pickford Film Center’s Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, BendFilm Festival, Edmonton International Film Festival, Film Columbia, Twin Cities Film Fest, Reel Voices Film Festival and Hawaii International Film Festival.
PP: One of the former inmates featured in the film said that it was eye-opening for him to hear the backstories of the veterans’ lives when he first saw the film. Upon viewing the film, one of the veterans was shocked to realize just how far she had come from that first day she entered the prison to meet her future service dog and found herself with her “anxiety through the roof.”
DBW: As you filmed and built the documentary in post production were there aspects of the experience that took you by surprise and led you in new directions?
PP: We always knew that access would be a problem, but it’s not until you are in the edit room where you realize what limited access really means. We wouldn’t see the inmates for stretches as long as six weeks and in a developing story, that’s a long time!
GG: Seeing the power of second chances — how prison inmates were able to give back to veterans, who are so often neglected, while simultaneously gaining new skills which would allow them to become contributing members of society once they had served their time was really inspiring. The parallels between the PTSD the veterans experience from war and the trauma the men in prison experience was also very meaningful. It led us to focus on the bond the incarcerated men and veterans formed.
DBW: What are some of the strengths and challenges of sharing directing responsibilities on a documentary like this one?
PP: There are only strengths. Geeta and I work well together and have a natural division of responsibilities. We absolutely have moments where we look at things differently, but we work through them and I absolutely believe that the outcome is improved out of discord.
GG: Strengths were having my co-director Perri Peltz — we check and balance each other really well. Perri comes from news production and I from post production so we bring different skill sets to the table and learn from each other. As far as challenges go, dealing with incarcerated individuals is challenging from a perspective of access. The Department of Corrections was very accommodating but we could only see the men about once every six weeks, which is less than ideal from a filmmaking perspective.
DBW: Where can film lovers see Prison Dogs?
PP and GG: Prison Dogs is screening at film festivals across the country. Anyone can watch the film on iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play and more by visiting PrisonDogsFilm.com/watch) We’ve received inquiries for DVD purchases (some with Christmas gifts in mind) and that’s an option too!
DBW: Tell us about the 22 push-ups challenge.
PP and GG: The 22 push-ups challenge set and achieved its goal of 22 million push-ups to raise awareness about veteran suicide. While this isn’t Prison Dogs’ focus, the film clearly shows the invisible wounds of war experienced by veterans with PTSD. Reentering civilian life is extremely challenging when you still live in a state of hypervigilance, with everything a threat, unable to sleep through the night, unable to connect with family and friends. To honor veterans’ sacrifices and spread the word about Prison Dogs, we counted down 22 days to Veterans Day, posting daily videos of 22 push-ups on Facebook and nominating someone new each day to do the same.
DBW: Anything else you’d like to share about Prison Dogs or other film projects you may be involved with?
PP: We have loved working on Prison Dogs and the unique opportunity to work with veterans, inmates, and adorable dogs!
GG: We have seen that the rate of recidivism is incredibly high and it’s incumbent on all of us to find ways to change that. Our film is a call-to-action for people to get involved in prison reform and helping veterans as well. This has been a passion project for both of us, we think both the incarcerated and veterans deserve second chances and society’s full support — we hope this film galvanizes audiences to think the same way and impact change.
Please visit us at PrisonDogsFilm.com and connect with us on social media at @prisondogsfilm!
DBW: Thanks so much for taking time to share about your work. Wishing you great success.