TIDF 2023: My Pet and Me
Special Screenings and Closing Film
The Dutch director Johan Kramer talks to SEE NL’s Geoffrey Macnab about his documentary that examines the inseparable bond between pets and their owners.
My Pet and Me by Johan Kramer
Is that a pig sauntering through a park on the end of a leash? Is that woman dancing with her dog? Is that cat modelling designer brands? And what about the little snail, seemingly showing so much affection to its owner?
These are just some of the moments from Johan Kramer’s feature documentary My Pet And Me*. The crowd-pleasing film, produced through Amsterdam-based Halal and sold by Cat & Docs, premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival last autumn and was released in Dutch cinemas by Cinema Delicatessen. Now, the film is closing the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival.
“To go a few steps back, the project started with me driving home from Amsterdam to where I live. Every day, I was passing a billboard for an animal crematorium. I thought, wow! I didn’t know these places existed. They were organising all kinds of ceremonies there, almost as if the animals were human,” comments Kramer, a filmmaker known for his commercials and football films as well as his documentaries and features.
This was the starting point of a film that examines the inseparable bond between pets and their owners and the extent to which folk are prepared to pamper their non-human companions.
“Then the impossible search started because there are so many pets in Holland. You can search endlessly and you find so many great stories - so it was pretty hard to make a selection,” says Kramer.
The director wanted variety, a good mix of different animals. He quickly found pet pig Francis Bacon and her owner Kim Pattiruhu. “She lives in the south of Holland and in the local press she had already got some attention. She walks around in the small city where she lives and a lot of people notice her.”
The director acknowledges that making the film helped him overturn some of his own preconceptions and prejudices. “I thought it must be pretty awful to live at home with a pig,” he says of Kim and her pet. After a couple of visits, he realised he was wrong. Francis Bacon was a sensitive and well-behaved animal, and Kim’s immaculate home didn’t look like a pigsty either!
Kramer acknowledges that it would have been easy to portray his human protagonists as eccentric oddballs. He was determined, though, to treat them with respect. After all, he is a pet owner himself. He has his own dog, a whippet called Paco that he dotes over. He often finds himself talking to the dog as if it’s a human being.
“It’s partly the questions you ask but also the way you portray them visually,” Kramer says of the dignity and respect he gives the subjects. “The idea was to make compositions that give space both for the animal and the human being in an equal way,” he adds of the tableau effect he was striving for. He didn’t want to strip out the humour, though. “It is funny to see the huge animal walking around in a little house.”
Kramer “invested some time” in getting the trust of the pet owners. He is tall himself but tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and worked with a small crew. During the research process, before shooting started, he contacted an anthropologist at a university in Amsterdam. He read widely on the subject of pets and anthropomorphism. “But once you have your five or six stories, you start filming and you develop them,” he explains why he didn’t foreground the academic side of his subject.
The director has made many different kinds of films over recent years. “For me, it is important that all the work I do is personal. That is always the motivation. I need to feel a certain link to the subject.”
His credits range from his 2003 documentary The Other Final, about a match between the two lowest FIFA-ranking football teams in the world, Bhutan and Montserrat, to the 2020 doc Keeper*, about the loneliness and internal anxieties of being a goalkeeper. He has worked with everyone from Lionel Messi to Tina Turner, Tom Waits… and now, of course, Francis Bacon the pig.
Football looms large in Kramer’s life. He was born Jan Jasper but changed his name to Johan in tribute to Ajax and Barcelona star, Johan Neeskens (about whom he later made a documentary).
“I was extremely shy as a child but I managed to stand up in the classroom and say that, from now on, I want to be known as Johan,” Kramer remembers. All the other kids worshipped Johan Cruyff, the superstar of 70s Dutch football, but he preferred the less celebrated Neeskens.
“I am always interested in the unknown stories, the little stories on the sideline,” Kramer sums up a filmmaking philosophy which extends from football stars to pet porkers.
My Pet and Me is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund and Film Production Incentive.
*Film is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund