SXSW 2020 Documentary Feature: An Elephant in the Room

photos courtesy of Good Company Pictures

By: Amanda Guarragi 

An Elephant in the Room focuses on a holistic way of dealing with grief at a centre called “Good Grief” in New Jersey. In this documentary, Katrine Philp shares the stories of six children and their companions who have lost their parents. It shows many different approaches in handling grief and acts as a catharsis for everyone involved, including the viewer.

At “Good Grief”, these children are able to discover a community that has suffered a great loss, just like they have. As we all know, children ask many questions because of their curiosity, but what happens when they start asking about death? It’s hard for anyone to understand how to process death, it’s definitely harder to try and explain to a six year old child that they can never see their parents again. So how do you begin to explain or even discuss death of a loved one with an innocent child? That’s what this documentary does so well, it educates everyone involved in the process of moving forward after the death of a loved one.

There are exercises shown in this documentary that “Good Grief” executes in their classes that truly help the children. It’s also incredibly tough to watch these children express their emotions because of the circumstances. They openly speak about their emotions, even when they can’t make sense of what they’re feeling in their hearts. It’s heartbreaking to watch them go about their everyday lives, while still processing the meaning of grief.

The documentary felt like it was filmed from a child’s perspective and the frames were filled with soft colours and warm tones. It was also nice to see the children interact on a spiritual level with their parents, it was definitely the emotional center of the film. It also shows that everyone needs love and affection from their loved ones, especially those who are hurting and don’t know how to express their grief.

An Elephant in the Room will take you on an emotional journey with these young children and will make you reminisce on how you processed your own grief. “Good Grief” is an organization that deserves more recognition for what they are doing because they are giving children a safe space to express their pain. Children are affected by everything and need to be guided during difficult times.

SXSW 2020 Documentary Feature Competition: We Don’t Deserve Dogs

We Don’t Deserve Dogs is a heartwarming documentary about how much of an impact dogs make on humans. Director, Matthew Salleh travels around the globe and finds such intimate stories about dogs and their owners. Dogs are such incredible animals and we don’t realize how selfless they are. Unless you are a pet owner or genuinely love animals, you won’t understand the beautiful connection that is formed with a dog.

This documentary was very emotional because of the stories that were chosen from around the world. It showed that the love for a dog is universal and each person who has a dog as a pet, feeds of off their calming energy in order to restore balance to their own mind. People who suffer from mental illnesses feel safe when there is a dog in their lives. The documentary highlights stories from different cultures who live in war torn countries and see dogs as support animals, for those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorders, or those who live in countries that host birthday parties for their pups, or even cultures who don’t see dogs as pets at all.

Salleh integrated so many cultures and the transitions between stories flowed quite nicely. I loved that certain shots were from the dogs point of view, there were some lovely shots of the dogs walking the street or playing in an open field. What was beautiful about this piece was the direct emotional connection the audience gets from the owner on screen. The subject is placed in the centre, with the dog laying directly beside them and you could feel their connection through the screen.

Dogs are such beautiful creatures and this is possibly my favourite documentary involving animals. It’s all about finding a universal human connection and Salleh found it through the special emotional relationship humans have with dogs. It was also lovely to see how different cultures accept the dogs into their homes or work environments. Every single story about dogs is in this documentary, from how owners treat them to cultures not accepting them as pets, to other countries allowing them in to pubs and even businesses having them as guard dogs.

This documentary is so special and I loved every single story that was chosen to show how important dogs can be. Dogs are more than animals you entertain or play with, they definitely sense how their owner is feeling and even the slightest emotional shift will affect them. Dogs will love you unconditionally and always be there for you in your darkest times to lift you back up. They truly are mans best friend and everyone deserves to treat them as a family member.