Brean Cunningham has been around movies all his life.
His uncle, Westport native Sean Cunningham, directed “Friday the 13th,” “Spring Break,” and “Manny’s Orphans” (the greatest soccer movie ever, starring a young Dan Woog as the referee).
After graduating from Georgetown University, Brean — who in his younger days played “every sport” at the Westport Y, and worked at Carvel — assisted his uncle when Cunningham produced the 2009 remake of “The Last House on the Left.” Brean later worked with Sean, on the development side of filmmaking.
But when Brean decided to do his own film, it wasn’t a thriller. It wasn’t a coming-of-age comedy. It wasn’t even the greatest soccer movie ever.
Brean wanted to make a difference.
In 2011 he co-founded Expect Miracles Productions, to “tell stories people can believe in.” He traveled to Africa for a web advocacy video about the positive effects of combating neglected tropical diseases in Ghana. He was a field producer on a documentary about Churchill, Manitoba (“The Polar Bear Capital of the World”), and the people who live there.
The 1st documentary he directed and produced, “Expect Miracles,” spotlighted the impact of volunteers in Appalachia.
Brean is very excited about his latest project. “Dogs on the Inside” explores the partnership between a Massachusetts prison and a dog shelter. Inmates train rescue dogs, who are then given to new families.
Both the dogs and inmates gain new leases on life. Both suffer from trust issues. As bonds deepen, prisoners — about to re-enter society — discover a new capacity for love and empathy.
It’s a powerful film. Like any documentary maker, Brean had to navigate a thicket of challenges, from obtaining permission to film, to making sure they had the right people and dogs to tell this compelling story.
Brean was allowed only 3 days inside the prison. He and his crew filmed the day the dogs arrived; a day in the middle of the program, and the day the dogs left with their new families. Everywhere Brean and the crew went, prison officials hovered over their shoulders.
Brean was impressed both by the prisoners’ warmth, and prison officials’ genuine desire that the inmates succeed. He was devastated, though, by what he saw in Mississippi, where the abused dogs came from.
Post-production took time. Nashville musician Sam Gay scored the film, and in late December it was done.
Brean and his co-director — Fairfield native Doug Seirup — have submitted it to festivals. It premieres at the Boston International Film Festival on April 14, with others to follow. Of course, Brean is looking for a local venue too.
Brean loves sports, so his next venture may be “a great sports story.”
Go for it. Though it will be hard to beat “Manny’s Orphans.”
If the trailer for “Dogs on the Inside” does not open in your browser, click here.