By Troy Hasselman, April 13 2019 —
The Baha Men’s “Who Let The Dogs Out?” has transcended being just a popular song. It occupies the same kind of ubiquitous cultural space as the likes of “Gangnam Style,” where a silly novelty song manages to capture society’s imagination and become an inescapable catchphrase that long outlives its popularity. The song was a meme before memes were a thing and it is still a staple of birthday parties, baseball games and karaoke bars.
Hodgee Films and director Brent Hodge present a film that tells the story of the song and its confusing origins. Who Let the Dogs Out tells not only the origins of the song but also the complicated copyright battles behind it.
“It just happened that a friend of our director [Brent Hodge] caught a live presentation by the artist Ben Sisto who has spent the last eight years of his life researching the story of the song ‘Who Let the Dogs Out,’ and said to Brent, ‘You have to check this out, it’s a crazy story,’ ” recalls film producer Aly Kelly. “We contacted Ben, he’s in Brooklyn, and went to see one of his talks. It was a full film right in front of us. So we just took all of his presentation and interviewed the people he talked about and made it into a film.”
Who Let the Dogs Out uses graphics and the research of Sisto tell the story of the song and its complicated legal battle in a way that’s informative and interesting.
“I think if you were a lawyer watching the film you’d think we skimmed over a few parts but we did that on purpose. We don’t want to bog the film down in that,” says Kelly. “We have an amazing graphic designer on our team that does all of our work and through his work and Ben’s explanation we were able to illustrate how copyright happens and we were lucky enough to get everyone involved in the copyright lawsuits to speak for themselves as well, so we’re not playing favourites. We want everyone to speak to why they claim ownership.”
The film will screen as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF), with the organizers describing it as a “great little comedy about copyright law.” Kelly thinks this is accurate.
“We refer to it as ‘an unnecessarily deep dive into the world’s most annoying song,’ ” Kelly says. “If I were to give a thesis statement about what the film is ultimately about, I’d say it’s a fun way to look at who ultimately owns art. We have lawyer friends who say, ‘This is what we nerd out on as lawyers but you made it approachable.’ It is definitely ultimately about copyright and what is art? What do we borrow? What do we take? Once something is out in the universe, what happens to it and how it is interpreted.”
The film links the origins of the phrase ‘Who let the dogs out?’ to a much earlier time than the release of the song and outlines the interesting story behind the writing of the song itself and its rise to popularity.
“In the film, we trace the ‘Who let the dogs out hoo-hoo’ chant back to high schools in the 1980s that sound just like the 2000 version of the song,” says Kelly. “When it was originally written by Anslem Douglas, a calypso artist from the Carribean, he wrote it as a women’s anthem to say ‘get these dogs’ – referring to men – out of the club. You can imagine women singing it in a rally chant like ‘Who let these dogs out?’ The Baha Men version rose to popularity through sports — the Seattle Mariners ultimately popularized it. It’s so easy and fun to chant as a group. It’s simple, you don’t need to know much of the English language to chant it.”
The Baha Men themselves even appear in the film, while ultimately playing a smaller role than one may expect. They were the performers of the song but not a part of the massive copyright battle behind the songs origins.
“The Baha Men have been awesome, their team is really great. They open the film in a sense because we want to start where everyone knows the song,” Kelly says. “They’re in it less than you think. They say ‘We sang it but we didn’t write it,’ and then we go down that rabbit hole.”
The film received a strong response from audiences at South by Southwest and the team of filmmakers are excited to screen the work at CUFF.
“Brent Hodge was born in Alberta and that’s why he keeps on coming back to Calgary. He really loves that city,” Kelly says. “I think CUFF holds a special place in his heart.”
Who Let the Dogs Out screens on April 24 and April 25 at the Globe Cinema as part of CUFF. More information about the film and tickets can be found on the CUFF website.