Filmmaker explores bond between officers, dogs

Warren documentary filmmaker Mary Healey Jamiel. Warren documentary filmmaker Mary Healey Jamiel.

Sgt. Matthew Zarrella and his search and rescue dog, Eva.

Sgt. Matthew Zarrella and his search and rescue dog, Eva.

Warren filmmaker Mary Healey Jamiel has witnessed a lot over the past three years.

She has seen state police dogs recover suicide victims from the Sakonnet River. She’s seen them track down missing persons, solve decades-old cases and even seen the dogs rescued from near death themselves.

But nothing has been as powerful as the bond she’s seen form between the dogs and their handlers. That relationship is the crux of “Reliance,” a 90-minute documentary she is close to completing which tells the story of the Rhode Island State Police’s search and rescue dog team, led by Sgt. Matthew Zarrella.

Ms. Healey Jamiel, an associate professor of communication studies and film/media at the University of Rhode Island, spent three years with Sgt. Zarrella, who trains former pound dogs for search and rescue missions. She traveled across Rhode Island extensively and went as far as Maryland and Maine filming the officer and his faithful companions. In the process, she entered a world that few know much about and fewer still understand.

Going in, “this whole world was completely foreign to me,” she said. But “I was very interested. Dogs seem to do something to the human brain. They make us feel good, and I think they calm us. And I also was very inspired watching search and rescue workers with their dogs after 9/11.”

The story, she said, honors the incredibly tight bond that forms between the dogs and their handlers.

“There’s no replacement for that,” she said. “No machine can accomplish that task. That’s why” the name of the film is ‘Reliance.’

Though filming finished earlier this year, she’s been busy continuing work on the project. Going through the footage is one of the most time-consuming parts, as she has 64 terabytes of video data on her computer to go through. She is also working with animators to help illustrate the tight bond she witnessed between dog and handlers. Last week, she appeared on the “Today” show with Sgt. Zarrella to talk about the film.

Finishing the film

Warren documentary filmmaker Mary Healey Jamiel.

Warren documentary filmmaker Mary Healey Jamiel.

In the midst of it all, Ms. Healey Jamiel has started a ‘Kickstarter’ campaign help her raise $70,000 to complete post-production on the 90-minute documentary. Though she has received several grants from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the additional funds are needed to finish the project, and she hopes to raise the money by early January. So far, sponsors have donated about $37,000, and those who donate can receive rewards, including clothing and even their name on the credits. If she doesn’t raise the money by the end of her campaign, the funds will be returned.

Ms. Jamiel’s previous films have included films on Lyme Disease and global climate change, and she won awards for her 2005 film “Holy Water-Gate,” which examined decades-long sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic church. She hopes to market “Reliance” internationally, and hopes to launch it at film festivals and screenings across North America and the UK, Australia, Europe and Korea. If all goes well, post-production will be complete in a year, with the film being released in 2015.

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