Review of the Film "Oddball"
The Warnambool project which used Maremma's for protecting penguins was ground-breaking. In 2010, Jane went to visit the project group in Warnambool to research the project. This research resulted in the highly regarded article "Big Dogs Save Little Penguins". In 2015, Jane reviewed of the film which is reprinted here.
"Oddball" - Unbelievable!
Since I researched and wrote 'Big Dogs Save Little Penguins' five years ago, the success of this innovative scheme inspired the movie "Oddball". The film fictionalised the revolutionary project of putting Maremma Sheepdogs onto Middle Island to protect the dwindling Little Penguin and other sea-bird populations. This ground-breaking programme, a clear example of our dogs doing the job for which they were bred.
Much of the film is set on the tiny, two hectare Middle Island which used to be home to a large colony of sea-birds including Little Penguins. As the land close by was developed, introduced species such as foxes as well as people who did not respect the Sanctuary, played havoc with not only the penguin population, but also that of the other sea birds. This prompted the trialling of a project involving the use of the independently-minded Livestock Guardian Dog, the Maremma Sheepdog, the breed that is the focus of this film.
These dogs have been selectively bred in Italy for around 2,000 years to instinctively act without human direction. From a very young age, these dogs bond with and so protect their 'family'. Sometimes this 'Family' is chickens, flocks of sheep and goats etc which the dogs protect from marauding predators like wolves and other wild animals. For the last few decades, Australian free range chicken farmers have been using the Maremma to protect their domesticated birds from foxes, other introduced predators and irresponsible people. Trials are also now under-way to investigate using these dogs to guard some of our other endangered native species.
Trainer Luke Hura with 'Kai'
With its fictional storyline, this film has of positives. Anyone who appreciates dog training could not help but be completely captivated with the shots of 'Kai' the Maremma who plays the starring role. He was trained by Luke Hura, known to many dog people as a regular participant in Obedience Trails. The mesmerising shots of 'Kai' with the penguins are unbelievable. Additionally, making the movie using 'real' penguins rather than animation made these parts of the film look totally authentic. With a live fox thrown into the mix, the success of the programme in real life as well as in the film, becomes obvious.
The initial concept of putting Maremma on the Island came from a local chicken farmer 'Swampy' Marsh. Shane Jacobson's portrayal of 'Swampy' was wonderful and totally believable as was that of his supposed nine-year-old grand-daughter 'Olivia' played by Coco Jack Gillies. The photography, especially the aerial scenic shots were spectacular and these, cleverly cut into the close-up 'studio' shots worked really well. As did the passion for penguins played by Olivia, her grandfather 'Swampy' and her single mother, a Council Ranger.
The film is one all dog lovers will enjoy. It definitely has its heart-warming moments. The scenes with 'Kai' and the penguins brought tears to my eyes. I am also very pleased that the story of the successful use of Maremma Sheepdogs to protect Australia's Little Penguins from introduced species, has been publicised by the making of this movie.
The above article was published in 2015 - Jane Harvey,'Oddball - Unbelievable' in Dog News Australia, published by Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral (NSW) Issue 10 (November) Page 6