Exclusive Interview: Filmmakers Rose Tucker and Matthew Salleh Talk ‘We Don’t Deserve Dogs’

Image Courtesy Urtext Films

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Rose Tucker and Matthew Salleh are filmmakers working together as a two-person crew — Tucker acting as the producer and sound recordist, while Salleh acts as the director and cinematographer. The pair have traveled the world producing incredible, award-winning documentaries such as Pablo’s Villa, and Barbecue. The latter went on to a global Netflix release and received the 2018 James Beard Award for Best Documentary. Their newest endeavor, We Don’t Deserve Dogs was set to make its premiere at SXSW but in light of the festival’s cancellation, we had the pleasure of screening the film and speaking to the two about the project.

Filmmakers Matthew Salleh and Rose Tucker. Image Courtesy Urtext Films.

Nerds and Beyond: What inspired the idea behind the documentary?

Rose Tucker: We travel a lot and wherever we go, we sort of have that documentarian eye for noticing things about people and everywhere we’ve traveled there’s always a dog. There’s always a dog, so it was on our last film Barbecue that I think the idea sort of came up because no matter where we were there was always a dog kind of sitting and watching what was going on.

Matthew Salleh: Yeah, and I think we’re just very fascinated in stories that show the relationship between humans and dogs. In those relationships it shows the differences in cultures while also showing the similarities and that’s always been an important thing for us.

Nerds and Beyond: How did you go about finding the dogs and people you highlighted?

Matthew: It was a very organic process, basically as a documentary crew it’s just Rose and me, we sort of do it all ourselves so we didn’t have a fixed schedule or anything like that. It sort of started with internet research, and you know you hear all these stories around the world about the interesting relationship between humans and dogs. Then we would get on the line with maybe a young filmmaker or journalist from the region and just start asking them questions and you’d sort of then develop a bit more of a picture of what it’s actually like. I think what you read about things on the internet versus what it’s actually like in the field can really vary. A good example was in Chile, you read all these stories about street dogs and some people are like “ahh, they’re not very well kept,” but then when you actually speak to people they’re like, “oh no, those are the community dogs that everyone looks after and takes turns feeding. In the winter time we put coats on them,” that sort of stuff. We would just ask these people what their favorite stories from their community were.

Nerds and Beyond: The two of you do it all when it comes to filming, was that a conscious decision you guys made?

Rose: It’s just been the way we’ve worked for a while now! When we first started in film we worked on bigger projects with bigger crews and over time we started focusing on documentaries and the crew would get smaller, then it became just the two of us. We’re also a couple, in life and in film, and we really find that when it’s just the two of us we can get quite intimate stories. We’re not a big intimidating film crew with a grumpy sound guy and a camera dude, it’s just the two of us. We can take the time to get to know people before we even pull the camera out. Cost-wise it makes a lot of sense because it’s literally just flights and one hotel room, it’s just something we can get the best results from.

Matthew: It’s also really flexible for us because managing an international film shoot in 11 countries can be really complex, but for us it was as simple as like, “we should stay around, we should hang out and see what happens.” That’s another 50 dollars in AirBnB fees and we can stay and shoot longer, so it’s always been the way we’ve done things. Rose and I also do all the editing and the post-production and we do it all here from our apartment in Brooklyn and I think that just lends an intimacy to the work where we just see these stories all the way through from coming up with the idea to the edit. It’s just us putting our mark on the film.

Image Courtesy Urtext Films.

Nerds and Beyond: Tell us a bit about the journey of creating this film. What was it like to experience so many different cultures?

Matthew: I think this is a very relevant question in current times. We ourselves are immigrants, we’re from Australia and moved to America a few years ago and through this work we’ve had the fortunate chance to travel the world. We really do believe the idea that by simply speaking to and listening to other cultures and hearing what they have to say, what regular people have to say, it’s a great way to build bridges between cultures. In this film, to hear a former Ugandan child soldier talk about the dog — you know they didn’t even know that dogs had this capacity for love and then learning that — that’s sort of resonant to say, people here in America that have had dogs their entire life and are just so used to that relationship. We always want to show the stark difference in ways cultures come about, like visually they’re very different, the way they live their lives are very different but at the heart of it are these similarities that bind us together. Now we all have to turn the tap off multiculturalism for a bit because we’re all being separated into our corners, but our hope is that with a film like this we can sort of remember those bonds that are stronger than that.

Nerds and Beyond: You mentioned 11 countries, is that how many you traveled to in total?

Rose: I think it was 11, yeah. There were 11 different locations within the film.

Nerds and Beyond: What story had the most impact on you personally?

Rose: There’s a couple [laughs], Matt’s already spoken about the story in Uganda with the former child soldiers and how they worked to heal their PTSD through working with the dogs — that was incredibly powerful! I would also highlight the story of Beenish, the woman living in Pakistan, where being a Muslim it’s against her religion to keep a dog but she found the dog on the street dying and she took it in, obviously fell in love with him and said “well, I’m not putting him back out on the street and I’m not chaining him up.” I think she had an incredibly powerful story, keeping this dog despite all her friends and family telling her that she was a bad Muslim for doing so.

Matthew: Yeah and she’s just a badass, she didn’t care what anyone else thought. She had her own moral code and she was like, “no, I’m doing the right thing, everyone else can get lost.” We really just enjoyed her, and you know that’s a good example of this idea of perception! People maybe have this perception of what it’s like to be a woman in the Middle East or a Muslim majority country and then you meet someone like Beenish who is just one of the strongest characters I’ve ever met, just doing her thing everyday. We just try to find those inspiring stories in normal places.

Image Courtesy ‘We Don’t Deserve Dogs’

Nerds and Beyond: Were there any stories you weren’t able to include for any reason?

Matthew: No, not really. You know, it was interesting we sort of had this giant list of countries we wanted to go to and then as the film started coming together, we were really happy with what it was. One of the hardest things when you’re completely independent is knowing when to stop, so we did the 11 countries, edited the film together and we were like, “I really like it like this … yeah, I think we’re done.” You don’t have any boss you can go to, to ask if it’s done, so we just sort of went “… I think it’s done?” Then stopped, so we didn’t miss out on anything.

Nerds and Beyond: What was the general reaction to Chino’s story/stories?

Rose: [laughs] It was great! I love that! Vanessa, who runs the pet store in Santiago, actually connected a lot of the dots, she had figured out that he had friends at the hospital, friends at the local supermarket. She had connected some of the dots, but when we followed him for a few days and during that time we found extra places that he stopped off and people would bring him food.

Matthew: It’s funny, they tell you to never work with animals in a movie, and I remember we flew all the way to Chile to meet this street dog and we were like, “what if he’s just not there?” He lived his own life and even the owner was like, “sometimes he just disappears for weeks on end,” and we were worried we’d turn up and he’s not there. I swear the first day we turned up, he was just sitting in the street waiting for us and by the end of three or four days shooting with us, he was almost like an actor coming to set, he’d sort of roll in and then he’d just go off. We decided with him it was a bit like shooting a nature documentary, we’d just watch him from a distance and he’d just run off to the park and sit there for about four hours. We didn’t want to push him along, we just wanted to see what he did and he’d suddenly take off, leaving us to tear off down the street at one o’clock in the morning because he’d go to a bar and hangout with the kids. It was great, we’d be running through the streets and people would go, “oh, you’re here to film to Chino!” He was such a celebrity in that town.

Rose: The funny thing was, he was pretty much nocturnal so he’d sleep all day and then at night, off he’d go.

Matthew: He’d stop at these random houses! The first night we saw him, he just randomly stopped out by this apartment, it’s in the film, and we checked our notes and were like, “this isn’t on the list of one of his sort of quasi-owners,” and then we came back a second day and a woman comes down and brings him food. I’m like, “that’s why Chino’s so fat! He gets fed about 16 times a day by different people, so I think he’s just about the world’s most loved dog.”

Nerds and Beyond: With the title of the documentary being We Don’t Deserve Dogs, was there a specific reason we got a bit of a cameo by the cat?

[Both laugh] Matthew: That was specifically in Istanbul which is famous for its street cats and so we thought we would have to recognize them. You know, give team cat a little bit to hang on to for this film, even if it’s a grumpy, angry looking cat!

Nerds and Beyond: Was there a method to the order in which the story progresses or do we see them in order of their filming?

Rose: No! They’re completely out of order in terms of when they were shot. That all came together in the edit, it was just a matter of contrasting themes, characters, locations and languages. Just finding a good balance, really.

Matthew: It was a pretty organic process. There was no plan, we just sort of started editing it together and there was this almost manic process of, “what if we go from here to here? No, then you can’t go from there to there.” It was this jigsaw puzzle that came together.

Image Courtesy Urtext Films.

Nerds and Beyond: Your first feature Barbecue went on to be released on Netflix: are there any plans to do the same with this?

Rose: It’s all kind of up in the air at the moment. We would love to do the same thing, but obviously sales and festival strategy is all a bit up in the air with all the cancellations. Our last film also premiered at SXSW and that was a huge launching pad and then, yeah, it went on to being picked up by Netflix, so we’re not sure exactly how the sales side or the distribution side.

Matthew: Especially now, with less people going to cinemas right at the moment, or less no people going at the moment, we’re looking into options to just get us out to the biggest audience possible. It’ll take a little bit longer than we were originally hoping but I think we’ll get there in the end.

Nerds and Beyond: If you’re able to of course, do you have plans to hit other festivals in the future with the film?

Rose: We did and then they all got cancelled too! [laughs] We were meant to be playing at Cleveland International Film Festival and then Thin Line Festival in Denton, Texas this month, but they’ve all pulled the plug. We’ve submitted to a lot of other festivals and we just have to wait and see which ones go ahead basically. We don’t have any fixed premiere locked in yet, it’s all just a wait and see until things get back to normal.

Nerds and Beyond: When, where and how can people get access to the film?

Matthew: I think for now, it’s a bit of a stay tuned! Hanging out on our Instagram page is probably where people can stay up to date with it.

Rose: As soon as we know anything, we’ll be updating everybody on how they can see the film. Hopefully there will be some news in the next couple of months!

Nerds and Beyond: Can you tell us about any future projects? Is anything in the works?

Matthew: You know, we love to travel internationally and make films, but we’ve had to put a pin in that at the moment. We figured that, since we’re living in New York and everyone’s been told to stay indoors we’re going to have a sort of long brainstorming sessions over a bottle of wine, working out the next idea.

Rose: Maybe something across America. If we can’t go across the world, going across the states is still pretty diverse.

Matthew: Yeah! We moved here three years ago and we’ve traveled down to Texas a bunch and traveled to a bunch of other places and we think there might be a great across America story that we want to tell that could start evolving over the few months, but no concrete plans yet.

Image Courtesy Urtext Films.

Nerds and Beyond: What lesson do you hope viewers take away from the film?

Matthew: I think just that, especially at times like this, we are all better together as a global culture. The relationship between dogs and humans is so unique, like if aliens were to come from outer space and look at humanity, they’d go “what’s this weird thing you’ve got with dogs?” We want this film to be about how dogs see humans and how we see each other, so I think it’s out of all of this we’re reminded about being this global family. That’s worth something to us.

Massive thank you to both Matthew and Rose for taking the time to talk with us about their new film, and as Matthew stated, you can follow them on Instagram, as well as Twitter, and Facebook! You can also find Barbecue on Netflix now. Stay tuned for updates on the film’s release and check out our review here!

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