We welcome back Vance Malone to Short of the Week today. The multi-awarding Documentary filmmaker is one of the great stylists in shorts, but in today’s piece, The Poodle Trainer, he dials back his technique in order to allow the emotion of his subject to take center stage…alongside a pack of adorable poodles. It is an unusual love-story for Valentine’s Day, the fierce love of a woman for her dogs.
Irina Markova is a world-class poodle trainer. Mr. Malone discovered her in California while pursuing a different story, but became so enamored that he followed her to Branson, MO—the “Las Vegas” of the midwest. There they spent 5 days together shooting her story, the bulk of it without a translator. Fortunately the director and his subject were on the same wavelength and intuitively understood each other. It is a remarkable anecdote, because the strength of the film is Irina’s performance. She is wistful, nostalgic and sardonic at times, but intercut with footage of training and her routines, a sharp constrast reveals itself in the blissful state that overcomes her when pursuing her passion.
Just because Malone dials back his filmmaking flair, doesn’t mean it is lacking. The film is far from a dry, DSLR portrait. If I were to highlight one standout element though it would be the score produced by Auditory Sculpture, who also worked on The Ocularist. It is quite center stage, running the length of the film, and at times is a dramatic dirge, others a circus-style romp. It is rare for a short score to be so distinctive and prominent, and it mirrors the narrative journey and contradictions of loneliness, regret and joy that the film so expertly reveals.
The film is not a new discovery, it was created in 2010, and had a remarkable fest life, playing Sundance, winning Silverdocs, and the first Cinema Eye Honors award for best short film. However it has languished undiscovered online for quite some time. Let us rectify that! For fans of Malone, he writes to let us know that a new work, focusing on Superbike racing, is just about finished. So keep an eye out in 2014 for that.