A LOOK AT ‘LAWN DOGS’: A FILM TINTED WITH LUSH DISAPPOINTMENT
Lawn Dogs spans for six and a half minutes yet manages to capture months of melancholy between two brothers and their pursuit of whatever may be behind the veiled term “American Dream.” Director Leonardo Martinez and Producer Neha Nagavalli, rising seniors at Dodge College of Film and Arts, Chapman University created the short film as a thesis of sorts for their junior production course. When asked about how the story arose, Martinez explained the origin of the narrative to be intimate with his own experience growing up: “The essence of the film, I wanted to be very reflective. One of my friends suggested ‘Why don’t you just do something you’re very familiar with? You grew up landscaping. That’s what you did at a young age—you helped your father work.’ And so, I took that suggestion to heart, and I ran with it.”
This familiarity translates in the lush fabric of the film’s progression, from the earthy tones coloring the title track scene to the steaming cups of instant coffee signifying the end. Brothers Beto and Rigo linger on the blurred line between adolescence and adulthood as they landscape to provide for their absent parents. Their mother functions only as a voice rather than a figure, heard in phone call snippets and relayed messages that she misses her sons and loves them. Above all else, the film operates on the sentiment of disappointment—disappointment when Allison, a wealthy homeowner, tells the two she no longer needs their services,, disappointment when another letter arrives prolonging their mother’s immigration process, disappointment at themselves for the inescapable loneliness that colors their daily routine.
Nagavalli described the production process as a series of trials and tribulations beginning with their university’s announcement that school would be online for the remainder of the semester due to COVID–19. Regardless of this, she said the struggles they faced were spearheaded by the fact that everyone on the team needed to care as much about the film’s fruition as she and Martinez did. “Helping other people see that vision that you have and getting them to genuinely care about your project and wanting them to be able to put it as their priority is the hardest part.” Coupled with the fact that to some of their peers, was simply a school project, she realized her quality as a producer stemmed from her quality to translate the final message to both the audience and team members.
First–generation Americans in one of the world’s most prestigious film institutions, Martinez and Nagavalli reflected on how the opportunities afforded to them shaped their identities as young adults in the creative industry. “You can’t teach someone how to be good at art...The most valuable thing that Chapman has been able to provide us is the community rather than the schooling. I have learned more through my peers than through the curriculum.” He went on to say that this is not a reflection of the university itself but rather the nature of the film community, where access to resources is only valuable when given the network and vision required to use them accordingly.
In an age witnessing the rise of creativity from every corner of media, there is a distilling quality to Lawn Dogs which lingers on the viewer long after the end credits disappear. Its message is coarse without infringing upon crudeness, a quality that is often absent in narratives of immigrant children and their role as caretakers. Martinez and Nagavalli have entered Lawn Dogs into several festivals and are looking forward to its receival by an audience that can both relate to and learn from it.