In 2007, football superstar Michael Vick was arrested when authorities raided his home and broke up a brutal dog-fighting ring that he had been operating for five years. While news outlets covered Vick’s fall from and then return to fame, little was known about the dogs removed from the compound. In her film, Darcy Dennett tells of the life-saving efforts of animal sanctuaries and follows several pit bulls from rescue to rehabilitation to their new lives as family dogs. The Champions paints portraits of the dogs as individuals rather than dismissing them based on their breed, and the result is heartwarming and inspiring.
How did you get involved with this project?
From 2007-2009 I was the producer of National Geographic’s series Dogtown, and during the course of the series we followed the work of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. The Vick case broke as we were shooting the second season and we covered the initial rescue of the dogs. The memory of these dogs never left me, and I continued to follow their lives. I became increasingly aware that there was a powerful story waiting to be told.
What has the response been to the film?
Overwhelmingly positive. A handful of people have said that “It’s the best documentary I’ve ever seen,” which is such a nice compliment….Another person said they felt the film was about love, which is such a wonderful thing to say about a film with dogs rescued from a fighting ring. …It’s such a powerful story in and of itself, but people seem to respond to the fact that it’s told in such a positive and uplifting way. There are no hard-to-watch scenes that will make your heart bleed, and we chose not to include any visuals of cruelty against animals. It’s an inspirational story about overcoming difficult odds and following your dreams. What these dogs have achieved, how far they have come, and the people who helped these dogs along the way is so inspirational.
Are things improving for the maligned pit bull?
Here in New York City, there are definitely more and more responsible dog-owners with pit bulls. I think public perception about these dogs is definitely changing. It would be great to see them take back their rightful place as the “All-American dog.”
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
To me the film is about…about the significance of the relationship humans have with animals, and our responsibility to be their voice, as they don’t have the ability to speak for and defend themselves. I hope audiences walk away from the film with a more informed point of view about pit bulls, and a renewed inspiration for the relationships with the animals in their own lives, as well as the animals we share the planet with.