The unlikely relationship between a Dallas documentarian and a persistent goose started during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a refusal to socially distance.
Cheryl Allison never thought her morning walk in the Turtle Creek neighborhood would culminate two years later with a film that’s received worldwide attention even before anyone has seen it. That’s been the journey of Honk, whose impact prompted the eponymous 46-minute film that will have its world premiere on Wednesday at the Angelika Film Center to kick off a new Dallas VideoFest curated film series. And it all started on that peaceful, fateful day in March 2020.
“The peacefulness was interrupted by the loudest honk I’ve ever heard,” Allison recalled. “This goose came up to me so fast that it startled me.”
She sat with the wayward goose for a few moments, shot a quick video on her iPhone so her friends would believe her, and crossed the street to go home. But the goose continued to follow her, stopping traffic and honking the entire time.
“I took him back to the pond, got him into the water to start bathing, and I went and hid behind a bush,” she said. “I know people thought I was crazy. He swam off.”
As they visited frequently and bonded over the ensuing months, Allison’s research revealed Honk was a domesticated Pilgrim goose who couldn’t fly, had likely been dumped at the pond, and was stranded.
“I was nervous every time I went back to the park because I thought I’d find him hit by a car or somebody could have taken him,” Allison said. Much of her footage was raw and unpolished but conveyed genuine emotion.
“So many people loved him, that it was a great opportunity for them to get some enjoyment from Honk’s story but also as an educational tool for families,” she said. “We talk to animals a lot, but they talk to us, if we only listen.”
Allison eventually learned that Honk’s mate had died shortly before they connected. That’s when she decided to take him away from the pond to Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation, a sanctuary in Hutchins that specializes in injured and orphaned birds.
“He really had a beautiful life there,” Allison said. “It was a fairy tale ending.”
So she finished the documentary in the editing room and prepared for its debut. Then, in early February, Honk died unexpectedly. Through her grief, Allison decided to revisit the film just weeks before its premiere.
“I owed it to Honk to have the full circle of life, his journey and his legacy. It’s a beautiful bookend,” she said about the new ending, which includes footage shot during what would be their final meeting together just hours before his death. “I never in my wildest dreams thought a goose would break my heart, but he just broke it in a million pieces. This connection we had was just beautiful.”
After earning celebrity status during his time at the rehab facility, Honk’s death led to an outpouring of well-wishes online from around the globe.
“He was grieving when I met him, and I was his lifeline. Then he became the lifeline for the world when the world was hurting. Then we’re grieving him,” Allison said. “But we’re able to continue on in his spirit. One of his last great lessons is that love will outweigh the pain.”
Besides her latest documentary, which likely will screen at film festivals throughout the year, Allison has already authored two children’s books to help ensure Honk’s legacy endures.
Both of those projects were funded in part through a grant from Friends of the Bath House Cultural Center. VideoFest founder Bart Weiss was eager to help the effort, too.
“This is a film that connects people instead of having people at each other’s throats,” Weiss said. “It’s a film that anybody can watch and feel good to be alive.”