★★★ - STUFF
- Move over spelling bees, science fairs and dancing competitions, here's a documentary that focuses on a programme with really high stakes.
Every year around 800 dogs are born into the American Guide Dogs for the Blind's (GDB) breeding programme, but only 300 will make the grade as companion canines.
Veteran film-makers Don Hardy Jnr and Dana Nachman's charming and intriguing tale follows five labrador puppies – Potomac, Primrose, Poppet, Patriot and Phil – as they spend up to 20 months undertaking a rigorous training programme.
Monitored virtually every step of the way, any sustained signs of distractedness, anxiety or lack of resilience will see them rehomed, repeatedly retested or given the devastating news that they will be "career-changed".
Naturally, these threats take less of a toll on them and more on the successful "trainers", who have already beaten even larger odds (the GDB annually receives more than 1100 applications from individuals and families) just to secure their esteemed status. You can see devastation on their faces when they learn they or their pooch have failed to make the grade. And if you think the rules for the dogs are strict, just wait till you hear the advice for puppy raisers in the first few months - go to bed early, minimise visitors and "it's best not to have shoes with laces".
It's these captured observations and the occasional unguarded and unfiltered moment that lift Pick of the Litter to a more pedigree status. This is no GDB promo video. Disappointed trainers bemoan the organisation's lack of communication and even "humanity", while you can sometimes visibly see the emotional investment they have made in their charges' welfare. Naturally our canine quintet also each have the distinctive personalities and foibles, which will eventually either make or break their career prospects, but winning audience admirers nonetheless.
If there's a flaw though, it's in Litter's construction. The potential eventual owners are revealed a little too soon and there's not quite enough focus on or integration of their stories into the overall narrative.
But for fans of doggy derring do and winsome whelps, this delivers plenty of delights.