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Bali – Island of Dogs

New Documentary by Lawrence Blair and Dean Allan Tolhurst Explores the Demonic Side of Balinese Life from the Perspective of Bali’s Canine Population.


(5/25/2011)

Two Bali-based filmmakers, Lawrence Blair and Dean Allan Tolhurst, recently offered a private preview at the The Legian in Seminyak of their latest documentary "Bali – Island of the Dogs".

Miguel Covarubias the Mexican artist, writer and ethnologist who wrote the definitive ethnological study of the island -  Island of Bali in the 1930s once said: "Bali would not be paradise without the dogs."



Covarubias serves as a departure point for the 52-minute, wide screen HD documentary produced by Blair and Tolhurs about the semi-feral dogs of Bali, and changing attitudes towards conquering nature and bending her to our will.

The term ‘Island of the Gods’ was coined by the first outside visitors to rediscover Bali in the l920’s and ’30’s; a group that included such luminaries as Charley Chaplin, Margaret Meade, Noel Coward and Colin McPhee. The term was eagerly embraced by the tourism. But that view, according to these filmmakers is only half true, claiming Bali is equally an "Island of the Demons" with the canine population embodying the dark side.

Bali’s dogs are not like other dogs. For ten centuries and more they have lived not just outside the homes, but also beyond the village walls in semi feral packs, diseased and scavenging. Six hundred thousand of them, one to every five people, roamed the island - a law unto themselves. They are traditionally sacrificed at certain ceremonies, are ritually eaten, and appear throughout the island iconography as the lowest of the low. And to the nascent tourist industry, they are an open wound in the island paradise. Given this context, Bali’s dogs were used to getting the raw end of the stick when by rabies reached the island in 2008, and the government responded with a ferocious campaign to kill all stray dogs in order to eliminate the disease.

Over a two-year period since 2008, 150,000 dogs have been massacred, and more than a 100 humans have died of rabies, yet the disease continues to spread. The authorities remained impervious to the logic of World Health Organization’s experts on rabies, who point out that inoculating 70% of the dogs was the only solution, and that attempting to kill them all has never worked anywhere in the world. Adding to the chorus of controversy, world’s experts on animal genetics from the University of California - Davis point out that the reviled dogs of Bali are the richest gene pool of genetic diversity in all of dogdom - tracing their ancestry back to the proto dogs, whilst so call "breed dogs" are genetically barely a couple of centuries old. 

The film’s locations include Bali, Australia and the United States, and features interviews with Balinese high priests on the ancient roles of dogs and man, current world experts on dog genetics, ecology and rabies control, and owners of the remarkable dogs which, despite their high scientific value face immanent extinction.

The film asks the question: if we can’t get on with the dog, our closest of natural companions, what hope have we with nature herself?

”Bali – Island of Dogs” explores both the clash of cultures and traditions, and the shifting relationship between man and nature, everywhere, in a changing world.

Lawrence Blair, the internationally acclaimed Bali-based documentary filmmaker said: “As a resident of Bali, for me this isn’t just a film about dogs, but a unique opportunity to portray the Island’s beauty and many mysteries, from the entirely new perspective of the dogs, the Balinese themselves and the foreigners.”

Continuing, Blair said: “Although the island is famously known as ‘Bali – Island of the Gods’, few realize the hidden worlds revealed by seeing it as an ‘Island of the Dogs’ - a creature which traditionally represents the Demonic. The presence of these dogs in this Paradise Island is symbolic of the universal conflict between light and dark, order and chaos, good and evil.”

”Bali - Island of the Dogs” is a 52 minute HD broadcast documentary for international television release. The producers, Lawrence Blair and Dean Allan Tolhurst can be contacted at Stormbird Media email video[at]stormbird.tv


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