The fourth annual Tryon International Film Festival, held in Western North Carolina’s famous equestrian town, bursts onscreen with a rambunctious “woof” instead of a “neigh.” Dogs, lots of dogs, are the scene-stealing stars of Life in the Doghouse, an extraordinary feel-good documentary that anchors the festival’s opening-night gala at the Tryon Fine Arts Center.
Doghouse (directed by Ron Davis, 2015’s Harry and Snowman) is the story of two horse trainers who also happen to love dogs. Long-term couple Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta had created a spacious showplace home in Camden, SC, where they hosted fancy weekend parties.
But 15 years ago, horrified by the country’s euthanasia statistics (about 4 million animals killed each year), Danny and Ron decided to start saving dogs. They brought home a handful of shelter orphans and rehabilitated them for new owners. A few lucky canines increased to what is now 70 at any one time, and their former party house morphed into the nonprofit Danny and Ron’s Rescue: the biggest doghouse in the world.
Somehow still meticulously neat and organized, the men keep a home where one can, literally, eat off the floor. Everything is run with assembly-line precision, all the dog bowls laid out in pull-out trays, medicine allotted, the dishwasher and laundry running all day. Although aided by dedicated helpers, the men still do most of the work themselves. Ron alone does poop-pick-up duty four times a day.
Their rescue van is now a fixture at equestrian festivals all over the country. Horse people, used to thoroughbreds, at first didn’t take to mutts of unknown lineage. But word soon spread about what great pets Dan and Ronny’s dogs were — to date, they’ve saved more than 11,000 dogs through adoption.
On the next night of the festival, an equally compelling film will show — this time at the town’s beloved, newly renovated Tryon Theatre. Laura Dern stars in The Tale, a drama based on uncomfortable secrets director Jennifer Fox discovered in her own life. It also stars Ellen Burstyn and the late John Heard in his last film role.
Ten judges, from a wide variety of locations and cinematic expertise, will arbitrate the more than 70 works in competition. (“No, you can’t see all the films,” admits festival co-founder Kirk Gollwitzer. “But you can really enjoy the ones you do see.”)
In partnership with the Equus Film Festival out of New York, and appropriate to the Tryon milieu, 16 films about horses will also be shown, and 12 movies in the eye-opening, often heartbreaking category “Human Rights and Dignity” — films that go deeper than U.S. news reports ever can. Feature films, a favorite category for many, have increased to a total of seven entries. The mainstay of festival competition are short films (24) and student films (four).
Most impressive is the number of countries represented in these movies — the U.S. and Canada, of course, and also the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, Iran, Bangladesh, Cypress, Turkey, and Peru. The farthest traveling filmmaker is repeat entrant Nischal Poudyal from Kathmandu, Nepal. A second Nepali filmmaker will be represented, too, even though he wasn’t able to get a visa. Closer to home, Asheville group Honey Head Films, an all-women, full-service production company, has two films in competition.
The festival (the brainchild of Gollwitzer and Beau Menetre of the Polk County Film Initiative) closes on Sunday night with an awards ceremony honoring all the films that receive special recognition, including a new category this year, best actor/actress. Companion events will happen all over town, including special screenings, educational presentations, a choir performance, and restaurant gatherings.
Though the festival announced no theme, one seems to have emerged. “There appears to be a common thread that runs through all the films,” says Gollwitzer, “regardless of country of origin. Although we are a world of so many clashing principles, heritages, lifestyles, and temperaments, the films say we truly are all about the same.”
Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Association) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Association). E-mail her at email@example.com.
Fourth Annual Tryon International Film Festival
More than 70 films, including equestrian films, foreign films, and others.
When: Friday, Oct. 5 through Sunday, Oct. 7.
Where: Tryon Fine Arts Center and various locations
How Much: $10- $25; $100: VIP pass
For more information:
Tickets: 828-859-8322, 864-414-7765, tryonarts.org/events.