Varmints [DVD] [1999]

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Varmints unearths and explores the issue of prairie dog extermination at the hands of those convinced of the creature's pestulence. Doug Hawes-Davis -- an animal rights activist, filmmaker, founder of the Montana-based High Plains Films, and the director of Killing Coyote -- uses the film to argue for the harmlessness and innocence of the prairie dog. Hawes-Davis opens with educational films, produced around 1915 by the U.S. Biological Survey, which attempt to make a case for the government-sponsored poisoning of the Cynomys ludovicianus because of the widespread belief that it destroys crops and cattle grasses; the director then moves into the subtopic of hunters hired by landowners to blast the prairie dogs for sport. Hawes-Davis presents sufficient onscreen scientific evidence (including interviews with scientists) to unequivocally demonstrate the creature's harmlessness, and alternates between this and extensive, disturbing, and blackly comic interviews with the buffoons who enjoy blowing the creatures to smithereens as a sport -- one of whom even fantasizes about stuffing a prairie dog and using it as a fixture in his house. Beneath the ironic humor, Hawes-Davis uses the work to draw attention to a serious zoological issue oft-deprived of media coverage. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

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