What began as a graduate student's film project has blossomed into a critically acclaimed documentary about a larger-than-life veterinarian in pursuit of his passions: animal health and community outreach.
Photo courtesy of Megumi Smiros
New York Vet
follows Long Island veterinarian Dr. John Charos as he operates a chain of practices and volunteers to prevent animal abuse.
New York Vet stars Dr. John Charos, the ponytailed CEO and president of Central Veterinary Associates, a six-clinic network of hospitals in Queens and Long Island. Since its release this year, the 15-minute documentary has been featured at film festivals in the New York City area.
Charismatic and outgoing, Charos is deeply involved in his community. "Being a veterinarian isn't for everyone," he said in the documentary's trailer. "You have to have a passion for the job. You're never really out of the job, even when you're off."
The film cuts to Charos caring for search and rescue dogs post 9/11. Since then, he's helped create and run the New York City Veterinary Emergency Response Team, or NYCVERT, a nonprofit organization within the New York City Office of Emergency Management that deploys during times of designated emergencies and disasters in the city's five boroughs.
Over the years, Charos's work has attracted media coverage. Assigned to make a short film for her production class, Hofstra University student Megumi Smiros called Charos's 24-hour emergency clinic with an idea of documenting patients in an emergency room setting.
The two met, and Charos became a willing subject despite having major heart surgery eight weeks earlier. "We do things for students all the time. You never think twice, you're just helping them out," he said.
That was two years ago. Since then, a lot has changed. The premise of New York Vet does not solely revolve around emergency medicine, as Smiros initially supposed. Instead, it's about Charos, whom she describes as down-to-earth, considerate and giving veterinarian who has a talent for being funny while staying professional.
"I started shooting without a plan," she recalled. "I knew a little bit about his volunteering outside of his office, so I prepared a long list of questions."
Shooting took place several hours a day over four or five days in a variety of locations. The documentary features a scene with Charos volunteering as an investigator for the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, where he works alongside Roy Goss, a colleague from his volunteer experience after 9/11 who's now in the SPCA's Law Enforcement Division.
Also featured is the Alley Pond Environmental Center in Queens, where Charos and his wife, Patricia, are board members. The film shows Charos with a blue-tongued skink and three little girls running up with questions.
"You can't script these things," he said of the enounter. "These are animals these kids have never seen. In New York City, the only wildlife are birds and squirrels. They were young girls that were very excited and inquisitive about it and why it looked so weird. Megumi really captured the moment of many scenes, and it all came together."
One of those moments occurred during a family fun day his clinic sponsored for staff and their families. Charos is seen carrying shortened two-by-fours in a basket, used to construct a giant version of the block-stacking game, Jenga. He rebuffs concerns about carrying heavy objects just weeks after undergoing heart surgery.
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he reasoned.
Charos, who has been practicing for 28 years, said the film addresses many social topics, including animal cruelty, cockfighting and pit bull fighting. The documentary, he said, shows a bit of behind-the-scenes work at his clinic and the amount of pro bono work that's directed toward the community.
"I think it humanizes us [as veterinarians] to the client," he said. "... We are dealing with life and death at times, big decisions. They see the clerical work, they see us working as a team. They see you have to love the job. The things I hope people take from it are the work and dedication of vets. It's a dedication to what we do, and I hope it gives a little insight into that and into the animal cruelty that takes place."
Smiros, who graduated in May with a master's degree in documentary studies and production, submitted the documentary to several film festivals at the suggestion of a Hofstra professor who provided her with financial assistance for the submission fees.
"My professor strongly encouraged me to submit the film to festivals and distribute it in other ways after the festival phase is over," Smiros said. "He advised me to treat the film as a project done by professionals."
New York Vet premiered last June at the Metropolitan Film Festival, where it won Best Short Documentary. It also has been featured at the Long Island International Film Expo and the Long Beach International Film Festival. New York Vet will appear on Oct. 14 at the NYC Independent Film Festival and on Nov. 7 at the Big Apple Film Festival.
Smiros "did a super job," Charos said. Viewing the documentary in comparison to other short films, he was struck by how few names are credited following New York Vet.
"It was pretty much her," he remarked. "She had a friend do the camera work and someone may have helped with editing. The student did everything in this case."
The documentary's success has risen beyond Charos's expectations. He's proud of the director and what's been achieved though viewing his image on screen is not easy.
"The first time seeing it, you feel a little awkward," he said. "It's odd to see yourself on the screen. It's not like reading [about yourself] an article."