Student Several audience members were brought to tears at a screening of the film “Dogs of Lexington” shown Friday, April 12, in the Bruce Owen Theater at OCCC.
The film tells the story of a program at a Lexington prison in which shelter dogs move in with inmates who train them to become service dogs. Those involved with the program now hope to expand it to as many prisons as they can.
Now, for the first time in 22 years, the program is being instituted at a new prison — Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McCloud — said Film and Video Professor Greg Mellott who served as director and co-producer of the 45-minute film.
Student filmmaker Stacy Mize said plans to get the program started at Mabel Bassett did not come about until after the first screening of the film in March, which gained money and attention for the program.
“That speaks volumes to what our artwork has been able to do to bring awareness for the program,” Mize said.
The filmmakers joined Dr. John Otto, co-producer of the film and the veterinarian who works closely with the program, at Mabel Bassett on the morning of April 12 for the first meeting and discussion of plans for the new program.
Mize said not only were they there for the first meeting, but also plan to be there to cover it throughout the process. “It’s amazing to be able to be part of that and to see your art moving people in the moment,” she said.
The dogs are not the only beneficiaries.The students benefited greatly from their experience filming the documentary.
Student filmmaker Jon Shahan said he typically prefers to work alone rather than with large crews, but he enjoyed his experience working with a group on this film.
“I learned that it can be rewarding to collaborate with other people,” he said. “I think if I work with a huge group again, I’ll find it rewarding as well.”
Though Mize was nervous and intimidated going into a men’s prison for the first time, she said she relaxed after her first day of filming there.
“All of that melted away because I got to see real people doing important things, and it was special and it touched me.”
Mize said she was no longer nervous when she went back to the prison and wasn’t nervous when she went to Mabel Bassett.
The student filmmakers seemed to have great respect for the prison’s program and what the program is able to accomplish.
“Give these guys weights, they build their body, but they don’t build their mind. Give them a dog and they become a better person,” said student filmmaker Steven Patchin during a question-and-answer session after the screening.
Mize called it a “tremendous honor” to have been able to film at the prison and meet the men who train the dogs.
“[They] are essentially helping give a second chance not only to the dogs, but to themselves and hopefully to other inmates as well,” Mize said.
Student filmmaker Jason Gwynn said the students are proud to be a part of the project. “We all want to be storytellers and be part of something that’s such a great story,” he said. “It was just a big honor to work on this.”
Mellott and Sean Lynch, film and video production coordinator and co-producer of the film, were both pleased with what their students accomplished with the film.
“As a professor here, I am so, so proud of our students,” Lynch said.
“They are so amazing and they give so much of themselves in these films and that’s what makes it great.”
Otto spoke at the screening and gave thanks to OCCC, and the Film and Video Department for their efforts in putting the film together.
“I know in my heart that this is probably going to go across the country and you all can be very proud of what you’ve done,” he said.
Gwynn, Mize, Patchin, Shahan, Mellott, Lynch, as well as students Demyilo Ray, Jonathan Decker and Aaron Cheoweth were all honored at the screening for their contributions to what OCCC President Dr. Paul Sechrist called “a powerful and life-changing documentary film.”
Funding for the project came from a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation. For more about OCCC’s Film and Video program, visit www.occc.edu/fvp.