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BWW Feature: OLD DOG at Sarasota Film Festival

BWW Feature: OLD DOG at Sarasota Film Festival

It was delightful to screen the World Premiere of OLD DOG from producer/director Sally Rowe at the Sarasota Film festival. Who doesn't love a story about dogs! They are faithful, smart and for some reason love us humans unconditionally. So this story of a New Zealand farmer, Paul Sorenson, who developed new herding techniques for his dogs, piqued my interest.

I couldn't help thinking back to the first time I saw CHARLOTTE'S WEB. I was fascinated with the farmer and his border collies training for a herding competition. Of course we all know Wilber the pig saved the day. But that was fiction and this is real and OLD DOG will show you how it's really done.

In speaking with Ms Rowe, I learned that Sorenson was a friend of the family. Knowing him as she did, Sally gave us a very unique perspective on this man's lifelong love and dedication to his dogs and keenly infused the storyline with the underlying drama of his struggle with loving humans - particularly his sons.

For 40 years Sorenson worked at developing a gentler and more intuitive training method for coaching his dogs. It was an acceptable practice to hit a dog during training if it did not obey or did something wrong. Paul felt there was a better way and worked diligently to understand canine psychology and perception. Getting to know how dogs listen, learn and react helped him develop far superior techniques that got almost immediate positive results from the dogs. A farmer can tell at a very early age if a pup is going to be a good herder. But that is only part of the equation. Sorenson has perfected thinking like a dog and instructing them in a way they understand and want to be taught. Paul Sorenson is a true dog whisperer.

In this documentary we observe his dogs at work, how he manages them, and how they react to him and the sheep they are herding. The dogs run over some rough terrain to herd the sheep. Even if Sorenson was on horseback, some of the steep and rocky terrain could not be tackled the way these dogs can cover the topography and maneuver the flock exactly where he wants them.

It's not just interesting to watch how the dogs work or how Paul related to them, but we are privy to some of New Zealand's most beautiful landscapes. The cinematography in this film is breathtaking: lush green hills and steep valleys, edgy rock formations, miles and miles between homesteads, and the harsh reality of man against nature.

As Paul ages out of his profession and prepares to move to a smaller location, he wants to teach his techniques to other farmers. He explains he never felt right about striking a dog and wanted to pass down his approach to other farmers. He is well known in the industry and highly respected. The film allows us to watch Paul training another farmers' dogs and the immediate results he receives from them. He is so affectionate and patient and deeply dedicated to understanding dogs that don't even belong to or work for him. He teaches his tactics free of charge and says he is doing it for the dogs.

We also tune in to some conversations between Paul and his wife. She is supportive and kind and ready to make the move to a smaller home and a more relaxing lifestyle. Soon we start to understand that when Paul was a young boy, he had an abusive father. He never felt love from him and didn't know how to give love to his own sons. When both young men were on camera it was clear to see they loved their father and although they understood his inner turmoil, it brought them to tears and words unspoken that the affection, acceptance and understanding they so needed and wanted was instead transposed to their father's dogs.

By the end of the film are left with a feeling that perhaps Paul and his wife will enjoy his retirement. His wife will have a smaller place to manage and Paul can continue his passion while passing down his legacy to other farmers. Future herding dogs will enjoy techniques of kindness and understanding. And maybe Paul will allow himself to love his sons. Perhaps you can teach an OLD DOG new tricks.

New Zealand-born producer/director Sally Rowe is an independent filmmaker based in New York. Her Emmy nominated documentary, A MATTER OF TASTE: SERVING UP PAUL LIEBRANDT won a James Beard Award. The film screened at numerous festivals including SXSW, Tribeca, and Full Frame and aired on HBO, BBC's Storyville and Arte France. Before directing her own work, she served as a script supervisor on numerous independent features, commercials, and the entire run of Comedy Central'S Emmy nominated CHAPELLES SHOW.

Regina Sobel editor/producer is a Brooklyn-based film editor. She served as editor and co-writer on FAIL STATE, a feature documentary about inequality in higher education, produced by Alan Oxman. She worked as an editor and co-producer on a series of science documentary shorts which are being distributed by Vice. She was the associate editor on Alex Ross Perry's QUEEN OF THE EARTH, which stars Elisabeth Moss and was released by IFC Films. Regina has been a reoccurring teacher for The Edit Center's Six-Week Art of Editing course. Previously she produced and directed graphics for film and TV, including PBS's PARK AVENUE: MONEY, POWER AND THE AMERICAN DREAM, Showtimes YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, and HBO's GAME OF THRONES.

For more information on Old Dog, visit

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From This Author Carolan Trbovich