My Cleveland-based video production company, River Fire Films, released the concept trailer this week for the upcoming doc-series titled “Once In A Lifetime” (OIAL), giving interested viewers a glimpse of what the 5-6 one hour episode documentary will be once finished. While this doc-series may have officially began production the week after Preston passed on March 16, 2020, it’s been years in the making – more than 14 years to be exact.
What started as a film project with a working title of “Fighting For Their Lives” about dogfighting the day NFL star quarterback, Michael Vick, was suspected of the crime on April 25, 2007, transformed into a film about breed discrimination the following year after meeting Shana Klein – the founder and President of Cleveland’s only rescue established to help dogs labeled “pit bulls”, where I met a little black dog named Preston who changed the course of my life.
I went to her home seeking information about dogfighting, and to also get more exposure interacting with dogs called “pit bulls”, and before I left that afternoon on May 15, 2008, I emphatically declared my plans to adopt Preston. This was easier said than done.
Just four days later – on May 19, 2008, Lakewood City Council proposed a ban on “pit bull” dogs, delaying my ability to bring him home. Ohio already had statewide breed specific laws (BSL) targeting and regulating the ownership of “pit bulls” since 1987, which made it extremely difficult to find rental properties where he and I would be welcomed.
Then, the following day, State Representative, Tyrone Yates, introduced legislation to ban the ownership of “pit bull” dogs altogether within Ohio, which if passed allowed animal control and law enforcement the ability to go door to door and drag out innocent family pets to be euthanized. Thankfully, that bill never gained any traction, but this was the atmosphere during that time in regards to “these” dogs.
I immediately shifted my focus of my film from dogfighting to breed specific legislation, and titled it “Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent” (GTPI), using Ohio as the backdrop.
That documentary originally premiered in Cleveland on April 28, 2013, and went on to be screened twenty-some times around the country, was an official selection to two film festivals (2013 St. Louis International Film Festival; 2014 Kansas City Film Fest), along with being shown in at least three law school universities for their animal law curriculum, and supported by one of the largest national animal welfare organizations in the U.S – Best Friends Animal Society, who sent copies of the DVD to legislators faced with this issue.
It was re-released on April 28, 2019, completely re-edited, updated and enhanced after Lakewood City Council repealed their ten year ban, and while GTPI contributed to helping change laws and minds, it only scratched the surface because even though these laws are increasingly less popular, they are being enforced in countries all over the world.
About a week after Preston passed, I watched hours of home video I shot of him. He was included in a short chapter in GTPI, but his impact was clearly apparent through all phases of production.
“Once In A Lifetime” is best described as an examination of these two words – PIT BULL, objectively exploring all the nuances around it. Between the original film project about dogfighting and initial research for GTPI before it was determined to focus on Ohio’s plight, I began archiving media accounts dating back to the mid-1800’s, cataloguing news and other videos during the height of the “Pit Bull Epidemic” of the 1980’s, and displaying other historical artifacts that help tell how we got here, while using the profound relationship I had with Preston to be the vehicle to push the story forward.
Some may say, because I share my home with dogs people call “pit bulls” it exempts me from being able to be unbiased and objective. But, that wasn’t always the case. Before Preston, I was just a dog-lover. I’m still just a dog-lover.
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