Winner 2001

Independent Lens: Still Life with Animated Dogs

Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Paul & Sandra Fierlinger, AR&T Associates, Inc.

Written, narrated and animated by its director, Paul Fierlinger, Still Life With Animated Dogs is a playful yet deeply serious documentary about dogs the artist has owned and that have been important and meaningful in his life. This autobiographical work reflects not only on the attributes of dogs as Man’s Best Friend, but also on the nature of love, political oppression, artistic freedom and survival. Opening with the story of Spinnaker, Fierlinger drifts into memories of the many dogs he has owned. Episode Two regresses to 1950s Prague, Czechoslovakia, where we see the author, in his 20s, angry, depressed and rebellious. Out of defiance to a regime of intolerance, he names his dogs after American presidents, “just to make things a little harder,” beginning with Roosevelt, who taught him a valuable lesson in civil disobedience: “When it comes to authority, get sneaky and do everything under the table.” Fierlinger eventually sought freedom using this important lesson as a tool. Throughout his film Fierlinger artfully illustrates how, in an atmosphere of political oppression and suspicion, his relationships with multiple canines enabled him to maintain a capacity for loyalty and caring. The film culminates with Fierlinger at 64, aboard his sailboat on the quiet waters of the Chesapeake Bay, where he finds peace within himself and a connection with the power of divine nature. Paul Fierlinger created these stories in collaboration with his wife, Sandra Fierlinger, who served as the film’s painter, assistant animator and production manager, and with Executive Producer Sally Jo Fifer. Original music by John Avarese further complements Fierlinger’s ideas and interpretations and accents the expressive animation. For a visually delightful animated documentary that becomes a metaphor for the human spirit, a Peabody goes to Still Life With Animated Dogs.