Who Let the Dogs Out @ SXSW – 24 Beats per Second Section

The world premiere of Canadian film directed by Brent Hodge (I Am Chris Farley, Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary) asks the tongue firmly planted in cheek and surprisingly intriguing question: Who Let the Dogs Out? It is the story of copyright infringement and a man obsessed. That man is Ben Sisto, who dedicated eight years of his life to getting to the bottom of the question of who wrote or was first responsible for this popular song.

Most of us know the Baha Men version of Who Let the Dogs Out. It was a massive hit for Bahamian group in the year 2000. Cheesy? Yes! But a real ear worm. Even now in the year  2019 when that song comes on at a party you cannot help by sing out the woof woof part. Generations of music fans have indulged in the song and it has attracted people of all ages.

Ben Sisto, initially prompted by reading the Wikipedia entry on the song in a public library, had recently moved to NYC and had no job, partner or child at that point. So plenty of free time. He spent a lot of it at the library. Once he was sucked into the vortex of the question posed by the title of the song it was a deep dive for him. Amazed that no one had tried to answer the question which had been asked so many times, Sisto began to research it. He became so dedicated to finding out the truth about the origin of the song that he ended up collecting over 250 pieces of memorabilia relating to the song. A true museum.

Out of the question came Sisto’s thesis – that idea that all is based on prior art and all is source material for future art. He collected so much information about the song and who is responsible for it that he began to tour the United States making talks about it. Hodge’s documentary pretty much gives you the highlights of this tour/talk. It is filled with interesting discoveries, showing how his research unpeeled like an onion and highlights Sisto’s dry sense of humour.

It all starts with Baha Men and their version of the song and goes all the way back to 1986 with a high school football team in Texas chanting “who let the dogs out?” along with the famous barks. It is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. A delightful one. Even for those few out there who are not fans of the song…in other words, those devoid of heart. This trail involves several lawsuits and fights over copyright infringement within the music industry.

Trying to get to the bottom of it all Sisto has traveled from the Bahamas to London to Trinidad to Seattle to Canada to Miami on to Dowagiac, Michigan and finally on to Texas. A long road and in the end there is still not really a definite answer. But this is a perfect example of the voyage being the delight.

In the end, Sisto, who now has a partner and a child, has settled on accepting that no one really “owns” the song; that it belongs to popular culture. Asked why he doggedly pursued the answer to the question for eight years, Sisto answers that there is nothing else that he is the foremost expert at. With his life changes he also acknowledges that his research run is coming to an end. Thankfully the fruits of his work are contained in the 58 minutes of this documentary.

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