By Adrian Gomez / Asst. Arts Editor, Reel NM on Sun, May 13, 2012
Originally appeared on Albuquerque Journal
Steven Latham is a filmmaker who seeks out projects that inform and make a difference.
He’s done a biography series – hosted by Barbra Streisand – on people who were more than 100 years old and told their stories. He’s also spent time at Sandia National Laboratories working on documentaries for “Nova.”
But it’s his current film, “Shelter Me,” that has been gaining buzz. The film will make its world premiere in Albuquerque, when it airs on PBS at 2 p. m. today.
“I wanted to take a different approach and tell a positive story,” Latham says during a recent interview. “This project was conceived about two and a half years ago.”
“Shelter Me” is a documentary film that illustrates how people’s lives are positively impacted by shelter dogs. Actress Katherine Heigl is the host of the documentary.
“As a huge animal lover, I was immediately drawn to this project because it advocates for the homeless pets at our local shelters,” says Heigl, a co-founder of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, which is an organization that helps eliminates the suffering inflicted on animals by human cruelty. “It’s important to generate awareness and overcome stigmas about these local facilities as well as promote these amazing animals and how they improve people’s lives.”
The film is cut into three segments. The first allows viewers to see the journey of two stray dogs, from the day they are picked up on the streets and brought to the shelter until the day they become adopted and enter a family atmosphere.
“The film takes people inside of city animal shelters to give a true sense of the environment,” he says. “There are plenty of members of committed staff as well as millions of animals in need of a home.”
The second segment highlights the California Institution for Women in Southern California, where inmates train shelter dogs to become service animals for people with disabilities.
And the third segment shows the transformation of two U. S. soldiers who begin recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder after they are paired up with shelter dogs.
Latham says before he went out to film the documentary, he did a lot of research.
“I wanted to understand what the issues were,” he explains. “In addition to telling the stories, I wanted to give ideas of how people can help with their local shelters.”
Latham says many people already have pets and can’t afford to adopt another.
“There are other options like volunteering or just getting involved with the programs,” he says. “You don’t have to adopt a pet to help the shelters. Getting involved is the first step. ”
Latham says the two veterans who participated in the project are important in the film. He says that many Americans tend to have selective amnesia of what the soldiers are going through overseas.
“Their battles begin when they get back home,” he says. “PTSD is such an important topic and the soldiers need our help. There are programs like the ones highlighted that have remarkable results.”
Latham says that both of the veterans – Andrew J. Trotto and Blade Anthony – were hesitant to go on camera.
“The two men were suicidal, yet you can see when they talk about their animals, their faces light up,” he says. “In the end, each man realized that they could help their fellow veterans by telling their story. It’s a different approach to treatment, but it seems to help out.”
Latham says he hopes to open viewer’s minds with “Shelter Me.”
“There’s a stigma that animal shelters have, ” he says. “It’s all about second chances, and there are programs who can help with these second chances.”