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Fund This Film: ‘The Dog’ Tells the True Story Behind ‘Dog Day Afternoon’

By  · Published on August 3rd, 2013

You likely already know that Dog Day Afternoon was based on a true story. But did you know the inspiration for Al Pacino’s character didn’t die until 2006? His name was not Sonny Wortzik, it was John Wojtowicz, and there’s a new documentary about him titled The Dog. Directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, the film is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.

The production needs some extra financial help, though, to continue working right up until the event and complete all the finishing touches in time. And for their campaign, Berg and Keraudren have gone with a new crowdfunding outlet called Seed&Spark, which lets you pick specifically what parts of the film you want to donate to from a “wish list.” This project’s options include archival footage and photo licensing ($25-$100 apiece), poster design ($500) and color correction ($25 per portion).

Even though Wojtowicz died seven years ago, he appears quite prominently in The Dog, which was started way back in 2002 because the filmmakers mistakenly thought that was the year he was getting out of prison and wanted to document that (he’d actually been out for decades; also they admittedly did the math wrong). Then the initial plan was to complete the shoot in a year. It took ten. “I guess you could say that at some point, we couldn’t stop making this movie,” says the story of the production on the Seed&Spark page.

In addition to capturing “The Dog” (as he called himself) telling of the real bank robbery, which he genuinely committed for money to pay for his wife’s sex reassignment surgery, the doc features interviews with his mother, his first wife and others in his life – but not the real Sal, who did actually die in the post-robbery ambush seen in the film; and not the real wife, Elizabeth Eden, who had the surgery courtesy of the movie rights but who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1987. Wojtowicz is the draw, however, and the filmmakers claim “the lines get blurred” during his interview regarding what is “reality and fiction, celebrity and infamy, memoir and myth.”

This apparently won’t be the first documentary on Wojtowicz and the basis for Sidney Lumet’s classic 1975 film. The first, 2000’s The Third Memory, was really a short museum installation juxtaposing a new reenactment of the true crime with clips from Dog Day Afternoon plus an exhibit of newspaper and magazine clippings and a talk show featuring interviews with Wojtowicz and Eden. 2005’s Based on a True Story is a Dutch production made for TV and much more traditional, featuring interviews with Wojtowicz, his ex-wife and even Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson. Where The Dog appears to be different is in its focus not just on the bank incident but on the man’s life as a whole.

Given the prestige of being selected for TIFF, we can also trust that The Dog has even more going for it than an interesting character study tied to a popular old movie. But that alone would probably be enough reason for me to watch it. Hopefully it successfully finds the money it needs either from this effort or elsewhere, because we can’t all be in Toronto (though tickets to that premiere are a pledge incentive if you can get there).

Here’s the festival’s version of the trailer for The Dog:

Do you want to see this film? Enough to help fund it?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.