Gates of Heaven

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Gates of Heaven
Gates of Heaven (1978 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byErrol Morris
Produced byErrol Morris
StarringFloyd McClure
Cal Harberts
Florence Rasmussen
CinematographyNed Burgess
Edited byErrol Morris
Distributed byNew Yorker Films
Release date
  • October 19, 1980 (1980-10-19) (US)
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited States

Gates of Heaven is a 1978 American documentary film produced, directed, and edited by Errol Morris about the pet cemetery business. It was made when Morris was unknown and did much to launch his career.


After a trip to Florida where he tried and failed to make a film about the residents of a small town there, Errol Morris read a San Francisco Times article with the headline: "450 Dead Pets Going to Napa Valley." This story about dead pets being exhumed from one pet cemetery and reburied in another became the basis for Gates of Heaven. For financing Morris borrowed money from family and friends, and the film was shot throughout the spring and summer of 1977, with the total budget estimated at $125,000. Production was difficult at times, with Morris frequently clashing with his cinematographer over the film's visual style. Morris ultimately ended up firing three cinematographers before finally settling on Neil Burgess, with whom he would work again on his second film Vernon, Florida.[1]

Gates of Heaven had its premiere at the 1978 New York Film Festival, and would play at various other festivals around the world before being picked up for a limited theatrical run by New Yorker Films in 1981.[1]


The film, like Morris's other works, is unnarrated and the stories are told purely through interviews. It is divided into two main sections. The first concerns Floyd "Mac" McClure and his lifelong quest to allow pets to have a graceful burial. McClure's business associates and his competitor, a manager of a rendering plant, are interviewed. Eventually the business fails and the 450 animals have to be dug up and transported to the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park. This operation is run by John "Cal" Harberts and his two sons. This business is far more successful, and continues to operate today, run by Cal's son Dan Harberts.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Noted director Werner Herzog pledged that he would eat the shoe he was wearing if Morris's film on this improbable subject was completed and shown in a public theater. When the film was released, Herzog lived up to his wager and the consumption of his footwear was made into the short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

Gates of Heaven launched Morris's career and is now considered a classic. In 1991, film critic Roger Ebert named it one of the ten best films ever made.[3] Ebert wrote that the film is an "underground legend," and in 1997 put it in his list of The Great Movies.[4]

Home Media[edit]

The film was initially released on DVD by MGM in 2005.[5] In 2015 The Criterion Collection made it available as part of a new special edition DVD and Blu-Ray that also included Morris's second film Vernon, Florida.[6]


  1. ^ a b Resha, David (2015). The Cinema of Errol Morris. Wesleyan University Press. pp. 13–14.
  2. ^ "Three Feet Under}. Metroactive. Retrieved November 28, 2010
  3. ^ Ten Greatest Films of All Time. Roger Ebert's Journal. Retrieved Mar 1, 2014
  4. ^ "Gates of Heaven". Chicago Sun Times. November 9, 1997. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  5. ^ "Gates of Heaven/Vernon, Florida: Criterion Collection (Blu-Ray)".
  6. ^ "Gates of Heaven". The Criterion Collection.

External links[edit]