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Pick of the Litter
by Karen Pecota

The latest documentary from veteran filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy share the heartwarming story of how a litter of puppies begin and end their journey to become guide dogs for the blind in Pick of the Litter.

Hardy is thrilled to be screening Pick of the Litter at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival. Hardy says, "The idea was hatched right there in Park City while standing in line for a movie." Nachman and Hardy worked together for several years doing TV news stories for NBC in San Francisco and a few segments were on Guide Dogs for the Blind. A desire to make a documentary together on the subject never made it to fruition. Their paths separated until years later with Nachman's documentary Batkid Begins. Hardy was the cinematographer on the film about a little boy with leukemia who became known world-wide by living out his dream of being Batman for a day sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Batkid Begins screened at Slamdance 2015. Hardy recalls, "Dana and I were standing in line for a film while in conversation about their projects that got away." Pick of Litter was birthed from that discussion.

Nachman and Hardy's quality documentation is a First. It's the first motion visual of the rigorous and time-consuming process of preparing a dog to lead the blind. Their cameras were rolling for a two-year adventurous journey creating the actual narrative of what it takes to be the ideal canine in service as a caretaker of a blind owner. The CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind organization said that the filmmakers captured beautifully the true story of their mission.

Hardy reminisces, "For over three years we were immersed in the world of guide dogs and the amazing community of people who surround them. Their commitment inspires me every day." Patriot, Phil, Potomac, Poppet and Primrose are the canines Hardy and Nachman showcase in Pick of the Litter. Each canine has special traits but the question is, will it be enough to give them entrance to the ultimate task of being that ideal partner for the blind?

Hardy shares that it was meaningful to be able to meet people like Janet and Ron. The recipients of these amazing animals. He says, "They opened up their lives to us and shared very personal stories about what it's like to be visually-impaired and how much having the assistance of a dog will mean to them." He adds, "Imagine how profound it is when a guide dog for the blind is the gateway to being able to go more places, have more freedom and experience more things?" Pick of the Litter opens the door to a better understanding of this world.

Famous British composer Helen Jane Long provides the musical score for the entire film that could almost tell the story of the Pick of the Litter simply by her creative and artistic inflections of the importance of this narrative.

Nachman notes that while their story features how specific canines are chosen for a higher calling in Pick of the Litter, "...It's about so much more...". She adds, "It's about the community of people it takes to raise these dogs. It truly does take a village to get these dogs ready to be put in the hands of a person who is blind." Her desire is to showcase stories like this that center around the people in our world who give so much. Nachman is now aware that, "There are dozens of people who touch each guide dog before they are ready to be partnered with their forever person. And, these are not just any volunteers."

It takes a special person to train a dog they will one day hand off to another trainer, to hand off to another. The higher calling of these volunteers is to understand that their specific job is valuable. They are one part of a big team and work diligently toward the success of providing a wonderful companion for one who has no sight.  Pick of the Litter shares a journey that has its difficulties, as well as, its proud moments. But, the joy of its success through team work exemplifies the value of the process and each participant will testify to its benefits. Tears of joy and sadness will be witnessed as one watching Pick of the Litter and will make you smile but it will behoove you to bring the Kleenex.