IDFA 2018: Buddy by Heddy Honigmann
17 November 2018
Heddy Honigmann's latest feature documentary Buddy offers a ‘loving portrait of the deep bond' between humans and their guide dogs, reports Geoffrey Macnab.
The Teledoc Buddy has its origins in a prize-winning commercial Honigmann saw when she was voting on the best films of the year (in all categories) for the Dutch Directors' Guild. This showed a traumatised soldier having a nightmare about the death of a comrade but then being licked awake (and consoled) by his guide dog. Honigmann began to wonder if it might be worth making a doc exploring the many different ways in which dogs help humans.
"I thought, well, I was very attached to dogs when I was a kid," the Peruvian-born director remembers. Her father, a concentration camp survivor, gave her a pedigree German Shepherd ("a beautiful dog") as a present when she was eight years old. The dog soon had a puppy and young Heddy went walking almost every day in a big local park with her two canine companions. She describes herself as a sad child, fighting against the "authoritarian attitude" of her father. After his own horrifying wartime experiences, he was very afraid that something bad would happen to his daughter and wanted to protect her at all costs. That meant she had a stifling childhood. "He never hit me - only with words," Honigmann recalls. "It was very hard, a silent battle sometimes, but it taught me forever to fight and not to be down."
The dogs knew when Heddy was sad and stayed nearby for long periods of time to support her. "I would cry with them, even." (She has dedicated the film to her grandmother Stefanie who, she says, taught her to "love and trust dogs.")
"The most important thing for me was to treat the dog as equal to the person in the film," Honigmann explains her approach in Buddy . She and her crew used special camera equipment that enabled them to concentrate on the dogs while they were helping their bosses in difficult situations.
Honigmann's human characters include the rebellious Annabel who, in spite of her disabilities, goes with her dog Kay not only to hospitals but to heavy metal concerts. Another is a former soldier, Trevor, with PTSD whose dog Mister helps him during the day and night to cope with his condition. The dog saved their marriage, says his wife: "Otherwise we wouldn't sit anymore on the same bench".
Another subject is 86-year-old Edith who was blinded by the explosion of a German grenade. She loves to run in the park as her dog, Makker, pulls her forward at full speed. Also featured is Erna, who hates nurses and has replaced them with Kaiko, a giant white poodle. We listen to Hans, also blind, telling us in a witty and intelligent way how much he is in love with his labrador, Missy. Then, there is the beautiful, lonely young boy Zeb, whose disability slowly becomes apparent, and his faithful hound Utah.
Honigmann describes switching between dog and person as "psychological juggling." The dogs are as effective as any therapists or personal trainers in boosting their owners' health and peace of mind, or in helping them cope with loss and bereavement.
At the end of the film, Honigmann includes stills of all the featured dogs - Kaiko, Kay , Mister, Utah, Makker, and their owners. Tellingly, the dogs are at the front of the image, in very sharp focus, staring at the camera, while their owners lurk behind them in a blur. In every case, the dogs here help the owners cope with what Honigmann calls "the hidden pain" of being human.
SEE NL Magazine #33 November 2018 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.