Review: ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’

Hot Docs 2019

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4 mins read

Who Let The Dogs Out
(Canada, 60min.)
Dir. Brent Hodge
Programme: Nightvision (Canadian Premiere)

On first blush Brent Hodge’s Who Let The Dogs Out is a silly film about a silly song, tracing with great humour one man’s search for meaning from a ghastly pop hit with an infectious chorus. Along the way the film uncovers deeper veins that question the very nature of creativity itself, finding that shared experiences shape work in numerous ways, resulting in performances, all drawing from a common well, where questions of authorship and ownership become murkier the closer one gazes upon them.

The film is based on a presentation of Ben Sisto, a self-declared world expert on the history of the song Who Let the Dogs Out?, most famously recorded in 2000 by the Baha Men. The song sold millions of copies, won Grammy Awards, and appeared in a myriad of film and television programs. Sisto, a cherubic-faced affable storyteller, gives a powerpoint presentation to a group of eager audience members, which displays the complex origins of the song.

Sisto articulates his multi-year quest to correct what he saw as inadequate information on the song’s Wikipedia page. From there he engages in a Homeric quest to uncover all the variations that have shaped this otherwise risible tune, along the way meeting with musicians, DJs, producers and hair dressers. Each plays a role in the songs origins.

Along the way, Sisto illustrates not only the tenacity of the quest but how even the most trivial piece of pop fluffery can, if taken with appropriate seriousness, illuminate the creative pursuits of a long line of participants, making the case for originality even more challenging. Questions of ownership become blurred, as the search for answers results in further, deeper questions that all serve to complicate matters even further.

Throughout Hodge manages to provide Sisto’s onslaught of information in a wonderfully humorous way, consistently showing the farcical nature of both the song and the futility of trying to uncover the source of its hook. At the same time, the filmmaker and Sisto recognize the massive financial and structural forces that are set in keeping authorship as clearly defined as required by law.

The end result is a film that’s both preposterous and profound, tracing this absurd life-cycle of a chant-like party tune as it it’s uncovered in dozens of differing iterations. Given that the song itself poses a question, Sisto’s quest seems perfectly in keeping with a quandary that has no answer.

We may never know who truly let the dogs out, but thanks to Hodge’s vision and Sisto’s mad tenacity, we’re treated to a delightfully fun and supremely intelligent take on the attempt to find answers. It may seem entirely implausible that a deeply philosophical film could be drawn from such innocuous sources, yet Who Let the Dogs Out manages to supersede all expectations, attempting to answer questions we never knew had to be asked and showing how deeply one can dive in such an endeavor. You’ll never hear that damn song the same way again, that’s for certain.

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Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at ThatShelf.com and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, RogerEbert.com and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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