Movie Review: Dog Days (2014)
Written by Anthony Sargon
On the surface, “Dog Days” is the story of struggling street food vendors trying to work through tricky and detrimental legislation that forces them to sell the same, generic products…products that can’t compete with the burgeoning food truck industry. If you look a bit closer, though, it becomes apparent that “Dog Days” is actually a story about perseverance. It’s a beautiful homage to individuals who work harder than most of us, yet earn only a fraction of what they deserve and need. It’s the story of people going against all odds in order to survive, but to also help one another.
The documentary itself primarily revolves around two characters; Siyone, an Eritrean refugee who operates her own street-cart to provide for her family, and Coite Manuel, a recently unemployed engineer who becomes inspired to help food cart vendors like Siyone catch a break. Coite is completely broke and has zero experience when it comes to food, but he’s determined to make a difference in the lives of these remarkable and highly under-valued vendors.
The film, which is co-produced and directed by Laura Waters Hinson and Kasey Kirby, feels extremely personal. Street vendors are the cornerstone of our nation’s capital, and it’s crazy to think that it took this long for someone to bring their story to the forefront. Whatever the case, Hinson and Kirby’s passion oozes through every frame, an essential component of any documentary worth watching.
The true stars of the show, however, are Siyone and Coite. Siyone is a single mother of four who isn’t a stranger to working 14-hour days in miserable conditions. Food carts can get extremely hot or cold depending on the weather, and when Siyone can’t justify spending an entire day trapped in a freezer for little to no business, she just stays home. Considering that it can get pretty damn cold in DC, that’s no way to make a decent living. Yet Siyone is always smiling, and always hopeful. What’s impressive is that she shows no sign of breaking down or giving up, but I myself and others in the audience were fighting back tears.
Hot dog depot operators are the film’s primary antagonists. Hot dog vendors are required to keep their stands in overnight storage facilities and are pressured into buying their products – such as hot dogs, buns, chips and candy – or face eviction. It’s an extremely unfair system that forces all vendors to sell the exact same thing, and it can make their life hell. There’s a scene where Siyone spends the night in a storage facility, cleaning her cart into the late hours of the night, all the while her young child watches and waits so he can go home and sleep. Yet Siyone perseveres and keeps smiling, always hopeful for a brighter future. If I could tear through the screen and give her a hug, I would. Thankfully, she was at the screening I attended, and I was honored to let her know how inspiring her story is, and gave her an awkward side hug.
A big chunk of the film’s focus is on the growing tensions between hot dog vendors and depot owners. With food trucks being all the rage now, they’re also fighting for their right to exist without cannibalizing the hot dog vendor market. It’s interesting stuff, but it takes a back seat to what I really took away from the film: The American Dream as we know it is dead. If it were still alive and well, people wouldn’t have to work this hard for so little in return. People like Coite and Siyone have incredibly noble work ethics, yet we’ve let them fall through the cracks.
If you live in DC, you owe it to yourself to watch “Dog Days.” While you’re at it, stop by 441 4th St NW Washington, DC 20001 (by the Judiciary Square Metro Station) and buy one of Siyone’s awesome steak & cheese sandwiches. “Dog Days” is personal, thought-provoking and immensely resonant. Don’t miss it.
Numerical Score: 8/10
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