"DARK WATER RISING: THE TRUTH ABOUT HURRICANE KATRINA ANIMAL RESCUES" — *** — Documentary feature about animal rescue efforts in New Orleans; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, vulgarity).

One of these days, Mike Shiley's filmmaking skills will progress to the point where they rival his abilities to find fascinating stories.

But in the meantime, he continues to make hard-to-mess-up projects like this documentary, "Dark Water Rising," which, according to its subtitle, purports to be "The Truth About Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues."

While it may not quite live up to that billing, it is horrifying and is often hard to watch. But it's also such a compelling story that you can't take your eyes off it. For animal lovers, it's required viewing.

Shiley and his crews head to New Orleans months after Hurricane Katrina to observe the continuing official and unofficial rescue and reclamation efforts. Their focus is on thousands of pets that were left behind when their owners were forced to evacuate the city during the devastation wrought by the storms.

Though rescuers don't arrive for a couple of months, they find that there are a surprising number of animals that have survived. But follow-up storm Rita — and some of the animals themselves — make the efforts challenging and more than a little dangerous.

Like Shiley's previous film, the Middle East expose "Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories," "Dark Water Rising" tends to meander a bit. A section about the supposed fallacies of pit-bull aggression probably belongs in another movie.

But it certainly helps that Shiley has found such well-spoken — and often outspoken — interview subjects. The story of the "Winn-Dixie" group, "renegade" rescuers who operate from a supermarket parking lot, could be fodder for a terrific fictional film.

"Dark Water Rising: The Truth About Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues" is rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing imagery, much of it relating to animal cruelty and neglect, scattered use of strong profanity (including use of the so-called "R-rated" curse word) and other crude talk (slang). Running time: 75 minutes.

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