(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team of Los Angeles is one of only two exclusively animal rescue units in the world and the only one in the United States. Founded and led by Armando Navarrete who heads--and often informally funds--a team of volunteers who at great inconvenience to themselves rescue animals. Their unit is called on to rescue a range of animals from kittens in a tree to a horse in quicksand. Justin Zimmerman directs. The documentary style is not exciting, but the cause is a good one. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Back when I worked in Detroit we were talking at a business meeting about a tie-up on the highway getting to the meeting. One person said that it was caused by the police stopping traffic to rescue a dog that had been hit by a car and who was lying on the road. I shuddered to imagine what a nightmare the dog had been going through. My office-mate said he would not want to see his tax money spent on saving a dog. I said nothing, but I could never look at him the same way again. I guess I just could not imagine someone I knew had so little compassion for a hurt dog.

This documentary is entitled SMART and is about SMART. That is a slightly contrived acronym for the Los Angeles "Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team." This is an emergency team, on call 24x7, overseen by the Los Angeles Animal Services division. This team was founded in 2009 and in that time has saved almost 1000 animal lives frequently at physical risk to themselves. They brave falls, equipment failure, and the rage of animals who do not understand their purpose. The story of the unit and their principles are told on camera by group founder Armando Navarrete and his wife and co- team-member Annette Ramirez. They married after initial philosophical differences. Asked if given the choice of saving Annette or an animal, Navarrete would try to save the animal. (After all, Annette is human and would be more able to take care of herself. An animal is not so lucky. Annette was not buying it. But most of the troubles that animals face can be traced to human causes.)

The team has often had to train themselves to get them ready at their own personal risk in the many kinds of different terrain in the Los Angeles area. Often they have invented their own tools when they do not exist or are too expensive. Team members say they do not make any money, often spend their own money for the equipment they need. Yet Navarrete can claim a 100 percent success rate in animal rescues.

Zimmerman directs under a small handicap. While most of the rescues are probably recorded by somebody's cell phone, they do not often enough create captivating images. Climbing a tree and reaching out for a stranded cat does not create much visual excitement. Your local neighborhood theater is unlikely to ever have a film with Brad Pitt rescuing a dog from a well. The SMART team undergoes danger and excitement, but it is not that kind of excitement that sells theater tickets. Some of the rescue scenes may warm the hearts of some members of the audience, but this is not the most exciting documentary around.

The film is composed of original footage, archive footage, and filmed interviews. I rate SMART a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

SMART was released to DVD and VIDEO ON DEMAND on December 6.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2016 Mark R. Leeper