The Tiger Next Door

The Tiger Next Door
Editor’s Note: I’ve decided to begin post­ing some reviews of films screen­ing at Hot Docs 2009 early, hope­fully help­ing any­one attend­ing make some decisions about what to see. The Tiger Next Door is screen­ing on Friday May 8 at 10:00pm at the Royal Cinema and Sunday May 10 at 1:30pm at the Bloor Cinema.

The Tiger Next Door (Director: Camilla Calamandrei): Beginning with the rather shock­ing asser­tion that there are likely more tigers in private cap­tiv­ity in the US than there are left in the wild, The Tiger Next Door intro­duces us next to Dennis Hill, a man who keeps 24 of them on his Indiana farm. A former meth addict, the wild-bearded Hill seems to scare and charm his neigh­bours in almost equal num­bers. Like many other obsess­ive animal lov­ers, he star­ted with just a few big cats on his prop­erty, but his desire to col­lect and even breed more exotic anim­als soon leads to a situ­ation that could end in tragedy, either for the anim­als or for the local popu­lace. In clas­sic liber­tarian fash­ion, Hill decries any attempt by the gov­ern­ment to reg­u­late his oper­a­tion, but after more than twenty years, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources finally con­ducts an inspec­tion and gives him 30 days to get rid of all but three of his tigers.

The bulk of the film fol­lows his efforts to both find homes for his cats and to make the required changes to his cages so that he can keep some of them. Hill seems like a decent enough man, gentle with the anim­als and con­tent to mind his own busi­ness. But he seems to pay little atten­tion to the con­cerns of his neigh­bours, and con­tin­ues to breed tigers to raise money to pay for the upkeep of his mena­gerie. Throughout the film, Calamandrei weaves news foot­age of tiger attacks and talk­ing head inter­views with both gov­ern­ment offi­cials and oper­at­ors of res­cue organ­iz­a­tions who are crit­ical of the idea of private own­er­ship of these anim­als.

The ten­sion between the dangers (and pos­sible cruelty) of keep­ing tigers as pets and the obvi­ous love Hill has for his anim­als keeps the film in an inter­est­ing bal­ance until near the end, when two con­flicts erupt. The first occurs when sev­eral of the tigers begin to grow anxious as they’re being taken away by new own­ers. One paces her cage relent­lessly, while another throws him­self at the fen­cing in his cage until it begins to give way. Even the new own­ers seem a bit spooked, and we’re quickly reminded how wild and power­ful these anim­als really are. The second con­flict is between Hill and the owner of a res­cue organ­iz­a­tion who has taken in a num­ber of Hill’s anim­als over the years. Even after tak­ing in yet another of his tigers, the man clearly dis­likes Hill, and a tour of the res­cue facil­ity with the two men quickly des­cends into a bit­ter argu­ment. Suddenly, Hill’s motives and eth­ics don’t seem so clear.

Strangely, the film ends on a note that is both uplift­ing and chilling, as Hill vows to con­tinue pur­su­ing his dream of breed­ing a stripe­less white tiger. His con­flicts with people only seem to make him more determ­ined to sur­round him­self with anim­als. For most people, this would be harm­less, but for Dennis Hill, only time will tell.

There is one point in the film where the chro­no­logy becomes a little con­fus­ing. We observe a pub­lic hear­ing into whether Hill will get his per­mit, at which his neigh­bours speak out for or against him, but at the same time the film is inter­cut­ting scenes of him pre­par­ing to move anim­als out to new own­ers. It’s not clear for a while that Hill is present at the hear­ing, mak­ing it appear that the two events might be hap­pen­ing at the same time. Eventually we real­ize they are not. Apart from that sequence, the film is well-edited and paced. Calamandrei has uncovered a story that not many people have heard before, and tells it well.

Official web site of the film


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3 Responses to The Tiger Next Door

  1. Dennis Hill says:

    i saw the film and it was excellent!the only prob­lem is it is very deep and wide, 87 minutes to cover a 25 years plus of my life and all the other people involved, and why the say the things they do.yes, i used to be rich and a paycheck every week until our won­der­ful gov­er­ment let all our jobs go to mex­ico, and this is when the prob­lems start.the bank lied and wanted everything i owned, and i was just in awe about that. i believe in integrity,truth,respect and brotherhood!too many things went wrong, i did smoke meth and ended up get­ting in trouble. they did not get me prop­erly and was very uneth­ical. but i accep­ted 3 years prob­ab­tion because i wanted away from the drug, and i did get away.but because of this case, i was on cnn, and the usda had not been at my house for 1 1/4 years. they were called out and wrote me up for all kinds of things, things that were not right, but they were under the scope. all my cats were top shelf shape, it was i that wasn’t! long story short here, i took a sus­pen­sion in aug 2005. prior month, july 2005 ni went to court to get my prop­erty returned that had been taken by feds. well, i made waves. aug 30 dnr came in dur­ing the rains from kat­rina , climbed on my tiger cages,causing them to spook and took pic­tures of them in the mud, and tried to take them from me. i have always been notori­ously known, mostly all in a good way. they had people they were gonna give me cats to that they didn’t know what their integ­rity was. i hand raised every one of them, still had the first cat i ever got,had her for 21 years, marci cat,R.I.P my baby,! those tigers suffered men­tally when they had to leave me, and i still think every­day about them. i had 5000 sig­na­tures against them, and it doesn’t mat­ter where i go, someone always comes up to me and tells me how wrong they have done me.joe taft, the man i got into the argu­ment with, there is a spe­cial sec­tion in my book for him under the head­ing, liar,liar, pants on fire! he came to my house in 1994 with one cat, a spot­ted female leo­pard with her teeth bus­ted out, want­ing to breed her. it didn’t work out and he left mad. but for years he has been telling every­one he has res­cued cats for 35 years, hah! he tried to get my cats and wanted the state to pay him 40k, ans he could have trophys to tell every­one ‚yes, these came from den­nis hill’s. taft tells lies for money, you’ll have to read the book. i did breed tigers, but it was with the the­ory of the greater gene pool diver­e­s­ity, to arrive at rare col­ors. hon­estly though i have only sold about 12 tigers, i kept the oth­ers here. there is so much that is yet to come. realistly and truly my story is one of being dif­fer­ent and becom­ing a tar­get for that. it has benn “open sea­son” on me, for these people to finally get a chance to say any­thing they wanted about me, whether it be spec­u­la­tion or non truths in any form!i can only tell you that for 25 years i have given everything to my animals,blood,sweat,tears,sold,borrowed,stole and maybe even lied fore them. and i you can tell by the way i talk to them and they talk to me in this movie. all i can say is theer is a lot more to come. my book,“NO TIGERS ALLOWED”,“THE LIFE,”“THE CONTROVERSY,” and “THE CONSPIRACY” will blow you away. i stand up for what i know is right, and i am still stand­ing here with tigers on my right and tigers on my left, after 3 bank­ruptcy fil­ings, one fed­eral raid, one dnr raid, 4 us fish and wild­life hear­ings, 1 doc­u­ment­ary, sev­eral news­pa­per art­icles (mostly good after the truth got out.….…but i have paid a lot of extra dues and died a thou­sand deaths, because it is true.……there are 2 sets of rules in this world and the most dan­ger­ous animal in the world in man!
    sin­cerely, Dennis Hill
    Flat Rock, in. 47234

  2. Angie Whittington says:

    I am excited to see what they made here. I know Dennis and I know he respects all anim­als and does everything he can to help whenever he is needed. He is one of the smartest and most inter­est­ing people you’d ever get the priv­ilege to meet and all of us need to listen when he speaks. He is one of the few ‘animal’ people who speaks that uni­ver­sal lan­guage. He is very respons­ible and humble and takes care of the things he loves. I think his love of his anim­als could even go so far as to be stronger then some people have for their own house pets, and his tigers know it too.
    Best Wishes and all of our love and respect
    Angie Whittington and Family

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