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  • Documentary Feature / USA
  • Director: Darcy Dennett
This review is part of my coverage of 2015’s Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Click here for more of my coverage of the festival. You can find my coverage of other Indianapolis area film and TV events here.
I have always been a dog person so I write this with the caveat that my objectivity may be slightly impaired. Darcy Dennett’s The Champions is a moving account of what it takes to rehabilitate the shattered psyche of animals who have experienced intense trauma. The film accomplishes this by showcasing the amazing work of the individuals helping victims of Vick’s dog fighting ring with the ultimate goal of getting them adopted.

The movie is a powerful testament to the bond between humans and dogs. It also examines the history of breed discrimination not only against pit bulls, but other breeds through history as well. There’s a strong thematic emphasis on the negative public perception of pit bulls and the film works to expose why it’s harmful and inaccurate.

At times, following the victims of Vick’s dog fighting ring is heartbreaking. There’s thankfully not footage of dog fighting but shots of dogs “pancaking” by crouching low to the ground when instructed to walk through a doorway will bring you to tears. The documentary’s emphasis on the mental anguish of the animals puts the viewer so deep into the mindset of the animals that seeing them flourish will leave you feel elated.

I appreciated that the documentary was almost entirely focused on the recovery of the animals. It could have easily been an assault on Michael Vick and his involvement with the dog fighting. In fact, one could very easily argue that it should have been that kind of film. However, Dennett devotes a small portion of the film on educating the viewer on Vick’s level of involvement. Through the perspective of a radio DJ who studied the case, the film details Vick’s involvement and examines his incarceration for it.

In the end, however, The Champions is a heartwarming documentary about the people who fought to save and rehabilitate the dogs that were rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring. Facing pressure from PETA and The Humane Society to euthanize the dogs, the Best Friends Animal Society work to help the dogs recover from their traumatic experiences and tragic lives.

Obsessive Grade – 9.0/10

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