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Director Paul Webster discusses his Tribeca-bound short documentary Canine
30 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Canine
We spoke with director Paul Webster about his latest short film, Canine, which has been selected to screen at the Tribeca Film Festival 2024.

Canine, directed, produced, and written by Paul Webster, began its journey on the festival circuit at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2023. This was followed shortly by Cork International Film Festival where it received the Audience Award for Best Short Film. The short documentary has been officially selected by Tribeca Film Festival, where it will have its international premiere.

The film follows the life of an elite tracking dog as he is trained in Ireland and then deployed to protect Black Rhino from ruthless poachers in Africa.

The short was shot by cinematographer Keith Pendred, and edited by David Keeling. Gerry Horan composed the score for the film, and Shane Hogan serves as associate producer.

Canine is one of a few Irish films selected for the festival, including Clodagh, starring Bríd Ní Neachtain, Rich Peppiatt’s Kneecap, and Screen Ireland-supported feature The Damned, starring Francis Magee.

We sat down with director Paul Webster to discuss being selected by Tribeca, immersing the audience in the dog’s perspective, and progress on developing the short into a feature.

IFTN: Congratulations on the upcoming premiere of Canine at Tribeca, how does it feel to be selected by the festival?

PAUL: “Thank you. It's quite surreal, to be honest. I thought it was someone messing with me when I got the call. Apparently, they get thousands of submissions so it's a real honour to be selected and to have our international premiere there. Robert De Niro is one of the founders of the festival and they're celebrating 80 years of Bob this year, so it'll be extra special to be there for that.”

IFTN: What was your way into this story? When did you first become aware of this connection between a dog trainer in Ireland and efforts to protect the Black Rhino from poaching in Namibia?

PAUL: “In early 2020, I read an article about Rory Hennebry the dog trainer and his plan to bring an elite tracking dog from Ireland out to help protect rhinos from poaching in Africa. I just loved the whole concept, but they were getting ready to go that spring and so I thought we'd missed our chance to be part of it. Then Covid happened which meant the project had to be delayed and Rory had to find a new puppy to train. However, this gave me time to get to know Rory and the team of amazing people who helped him train the dogs. I was just bowled over by their knowledge and commitment to this cause. Rory called me excitedly one day telling me he'd found a puppy with the right attitude for the Africa project. That puppy was AK and we started filming immediately and continued filming for the next year, all the way through his training and then to his deployment in Namibia.”

IFTN: We’re often at eye level with the dog in Canine. Could you tell us a bit about immersing the audience in the world depicted in the short?

PAUL: “I called cinematographer Keith Pendred and told him, 'I've got this mad idea to follow the full life of a tracking dog, from a tiny puppy being trained up to his deployment in Namibia. Keith was all in. He understood what I wanted to do and was totally up for the challenge. We talked about the shooting style a lot and this was always part of the concept, seeing the world through the eyes of the dog and immersing the audience in the dog's world. This felt very exciting and working within those parameters was a lot of fun. Editor David Keeling was integral in pulling this all together and getting the tone right throughout. We wanted to make AK's story feel epic and Gerry Horan really achieved this with his amazing score.”

IFTN: What do you hope audiences will take away from Canine?

PAUL: “It's been amazing to see the reaction from audiences at festivals so far and some people have gotten quite emotional seeing it. I think it's because there are so many environmental crises facing us today that it can feel totally overwhelming and also we can feel so removed from places like Africa. But here is an environmental film that audiences everywhere can relate to because of this amazing dog at the centre of the story. One of the drivers of the destruction of our natural world is the loss of our connection with it and its animals. If we were as connected to these endangered animals as we are to dogs, they wouldn’t be going extinct.”

IFTN: How is the development of the Canine feature film coming along?

PAUL: “I'm working with Brian Willis of Igloo Films and it's a very exciting time at the moment. We've been able to use the short as a proof of concept and there's been lots of interest from International co-producers. Rory is busy training the next batch of puppies that will be going to the frontlines of poaching in Africa and the plan is to follow these dogs over the next year and a half for the feature film. As a result of the short film, Níall Beddy, an Irish conservationist working at the coalface of the poaching problem heard about the K9 Wildlife Project. He saw the value in it and we're now working with him to get the dogs to where they are needed most.”

Canine will screen in Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Shorts: Life Cycles strand on June 6th, 11th, and 15th.
 





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