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Short of “Toddlers in Bunny Onesies: The Movie,” it’s hard to think of a film concept more guaranteed to elicit the “Awwwww…” factor than that demonstrated by “Pick of the Litter.” Dana Nachman and Don Hardy’s fourth documentary feature as co-directors follows five Labrador puppies as they undergo the lengthy training process to become guide dogs for the blind — a challenge that most four-legged aspirants will ultimately fail. Though not particularly inspired in packaging or storytelling, this solidly crafted item is guaranteed to appeal to mutt-lovers, as attested to by the several festival audience awards it’s already accumulated since its Slamdance premiere in January. Sundance Selects plans an Aug. 31 release.
After a short prologue in which visually impaired persons recall how guide dogs saved their lives — from speeding cars, falling down staircases, even the 78th floor of a World Trade Center tower on 9/11 — we’re introduced to our protagonists. The five black-and-tan Labs dubbed Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil are born on the campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind’s San Rafael, Calif., campus, and they’ve scarcely a day old before their training begins. Eight weeks later, each are farmed out to “puppy raiser” families and individuals who’ll foster them through up to 16 months of socialization and other preliminary prep for the job at hand.
Dogs - Blind - Lot - Hoops - Route
Only a few such dogs end up assigned to the blind; there are a lot of challenging hoops to jump through en route. Patriot proves mouthy and unruly with his teenage foster owner from the get-go. Turned over to an Iraq vet with more experience — and for whom these canine caretaking gigs are a helpful distraction from his PTSD — the dog performs better. Likewise, Phil is transferred from one couple to another, the latter practiced “fixers” for problem...
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