Hot Docs has always done a fantastic job finding the stories that ask what it means to be human, even if it means screening documentaries on animals to do it.

2013 was another stellar year at the festival for films that explored the animal kingdom, from one man's love for a fox to delving inside the mind of a killer whale. Special mention goes to the Canadian production "The Ghosts In Our Machine" which begs serious ethical questions about our relationship with sentient beings in a world fraught with factories and fur farming.

One sure indicator of how our furry friends can affect us is the loss of a pet. In "Furever", director Amy Finkel explores just how attached we seem to be to our animals, and the ways we are deciding to grieve those animals. It's a sad fact that in most cases we will lose a pet long before it's our turn to frolic beneath the rainbow bridge, and so the emotional investment can be bittersweet. It's also true that dogs and cats are often no longer sentenced to spend their lives in our backyards. Pets are family, and when it's time to say goodbye there is a growing list of industrious entrepreneurs looking for your mourning dollar.

"Furever" opens with an examination of extremes. Boomer, a cat, has passed on and his loving owner is crushed. Sobbing and distraught, he has memorial shrines in place, keeps meticulous photo albums, and speaks about Boomer as if he were a son. This particular case may be a little odd, and certainly doesn't represent the majority of cat owners, but it does point out the fanaticism some people have with their animals.

Millions of pets die each year and that means creative, and sometimes novel services are sprouting up everywhere to cash in on $50 billion worth of business. DNA is a popular starting point, and you can do anything with it. From DNA diamond jewelry that uses your kitty cat's hair or cremated ash, to DNA beads and DNA tattoos; these particular keepsakes are often more tacky trinket than thoughtful tribute. Pet ashes can be fashioned into other interesting items: Ash fireworks, ash mixed into a vinyl record, ash mixed with gunpowder to create pet-infused ammo, even ash fertilizer.

One of the film's most startling sequences chronicles the rising popularity in pet taxidermy and freeze drying techniques. There's nothing like a freezer full of hollow dogs to get your attention. Business is brisk with fluffy felines and tiny dogs encroaching upon an industry that was once exclusive to hunting kills like deer and moose. Stuffing your animal costs big bucks, but some people just can't let go of Fifi or Fido, so petting their lifeless body is their only solace. Finkel gets interviews with many of these proud owners, and if you haven't already deemed the idea as dreadful, their testimonials should do the trick. These aren't necessarily animal lovers as much as they are people who have serious attachment issues.

The film also puts significant time into the pet funeral industry. Scenes include open-casket funerals held in animal funeral homes, the latest in well maintained pet cemeteries, and insight on the relationship between veterinarians and pet disposal services.

"Furever" lost me in places. A scene that showcases how pets are becoming an industry mover and shaker at a Las Vegas funeral trade show is a bit obnoxious. But for sociology buffs, animal lovers and even those who just want to prove that animal lovers are crazy, this may be the film for you. "Furever" may be the crazy cat lady in this year's crop of documentaries at Hot Docs, but who doesn't like hanging out with the crazy cat lady once in awhile?


Sun, May 5, 6:30 p.m.

The Revue

"The Ghosts In Our Machine"

Sat, May 4, 11 a.m.

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Other Hot Docs 2013 Reviews:

Hot Docs Day 9: "The Unbelievers"

Hot Docs Day 8: "American Commune"

Hot Docs Day 7: "This Ain't No Mouse Music"

Hot Docs Day 6: "12 O'Clock Boys"

Hot Docs Day 5: "Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer"

Hot Docs Day 4: "TPB AFK"

Hot Docs Day 3: "15 Reasons To Live"

Hot Docs Day 2: "Good Ol' Freda"

Hot Docs Day 1: "The Manor"
categories Movies