Every dog gets its film festival

First Canine Film Festival unleashes this weekend at S.F.’s Castro Theatre

For more than a hundred years, canine actors have provided Hollywood with several kennels full of heroes, villains, clowns, pals, rascals, crime-solvers and enforcers. The well-cast dog not only offers audiences glimpses into the souls of human characters, but a perfectly timed bark or tilt of the head also can elicit gales of tears, screams and laughter.

And, what do these four-legged thespians get for their efforts? Often, not much more than a pat on the head, an extra Milk Bone or an especially fluffy pillow.

Heck, at this weekend’s inaugural Canine Film Festival, not even best-in-show winners will be allowed to step paw into the aisles of the Castro Theatre. Only “service dogs” — aka, seeing-eye dogs — will be welcome at the two-day event.

“Yes, that’s unfortunate,” said Maria Goodavage, the event’s producer. “But, letting people bring their pets would be inconvenient for the theater in several obvious way. It was important for us to show the films on the big screen, as they were meant to be seen.”

The Castro Theatre is the home for the Canine Film Festival’sscreenings and gala, which will benefit PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support), an all-volunteer organization that provides companion animals for low-income persons and those with disabling illnesses.

Goodavage’s obsession with the care and comfort of dogs began more than a decade ago, when, as a freelance writer with an Airedale puppy, she was assigned a story about the various places in the Bay Area where a pet and its owner could freely frolic in public. This led to series of “Dog Lovers Companion” books offering residents of various cities, and people traveling with their pets, advice about dog-friendly parks, hotels, boarding facilities and, yes, even restaurants.

“San Francisco is the most dog-friendly city in the United States,” she said, even if entertainment venues aren’t yet required to be canine-accessible.

The festival, which is being presented by Wag Pet Hotels, represents the diversity of the genre, from tear-jerking doggy dramas (“Old Yeller”), to thrillers (“101 Dalmations”), mockumentaries (“Best in Show”) and, of course, such comedies as “The Shaggy Dog,” “Wallace & Gromit” and Laurel & Hardy shorts. The Mongolian docudrama, “The Cave of the Yellow Dog” — Byambasuren Davaa’s follow-up to “The Story of the Weeping Camel” — will be screened, as well.

Saturday evening’s gala will be hosted by KRON-TV’s Jan Wahl, and it will feature an appearance by Fred Willard and other stars of “Best in Show.”

On Sunday, comedian JoAnne Worley will emcee a dog-themed drag competition to determine “Queen of the Canine Film Festival.” She’ll be assisted by “empress” Donna Sachet.

Even though she admits to not knowing ahead of time the amount of work required of event planners, Goodavage hopes to make the Canine Film Festival an annual event.

“This was new territory for us,” she said. “The Castro’s bookers were extremely helpful, but there were still some films we couldn’t find or weren’t made available to us. We really wanted the 1951 film, ‘You Never Can Tell,’ with Dick Powell, which was a ‘Heaven Can Wait’ for dogs … no one could find a print, though.”

Speaking of tragedies, anyone considering revisiting childhood trauma — or exposing their children to the cold realities of dog life — will be relieved to learn that packets of tissues will be handed out before the screening of “Old Yeller.”

Canine film festival

When: Saturday-Sunday

Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco

Price: Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under; $75 for special gala reception; $70 for all-movies pass; $140 for all-festival pass, including reception

Info: Call (415) 682-3647 or visit www.caninefilmfest.org

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