Animals On Film

I’m so happy to welcome an accomplished, award-winning filmmaker, Andrew Hinton, to The Discerning Brute’s roster of expert contributors. Andrew both meticulously crafts stories, ideas and feelings into compelling and visually stunning films, and looks at others’ films through a lens that assesses everything from aesthetics to ethics. - Joshua Katcher

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by Andrew Hinton, Filmmaker

As a filmmaker and a vegan I’m fascinated by the way animals are represented and portrayed on the screen. I believe in the power of media to shape our behaviour – and therefore our world – and I want to understand how this power can be harnessed to compassionate ends.

I’m embarking a new film project which seeks to make sense of the complex, sometimes inspiring, often heartbreaking relationships between humans and animals.

On this journey of researching my own film I’m going to explore everything from Youtube pet videos to undercover activist films. Feature films to phone cameras. Natural history documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters.

…I want to find out who speaks for the animals.

Along the way I want to find out who speaks for the animals. To discover why so many humans love watching some species while eating or wearing others. And see whether film really can change hearts and minds – and save lives. I’ll review and share some of the most interesting examples I find along the way here.

“We Work For Them”

In the documentary A Fierce Green Fire hero of the high seas Paul Watson shares the story of a profound encounter with whales which changed his life. “From that moment on” he says, “I decided I work for whales. I work for seals and sea turtles and fish and sea birds. I don’t work for people.” I remember feeling something shift as I heard those words. Here was a human who answered only to nature with the courage and capabilities to really do something about the problems he was witnessing.

There are a number of heroes in Orlando von Einsiedel’s documentary Virunga, released worldwide this week on Netflix. It’s a beautiful film wrestled pretty much single handedly into being by the director who spent over a year living and filming in the Virunga National Park in Eastern Congo.

The film plays out an all too familiar story of a murky British oil company seeking to undermine the conservation work at this UNESCO World Heritage Site in order to exploit the park’s natural resources. Standing in their way are the last of the world’s wild mountain gorillas, a team of rangers whose job it is to protect them, and a brave young journalist who takes considerable risks to reveal the company’s underhand methods.

Against a backdrop of money, politics and armed conflict we see the beauty and wonder of the park’s biodiversity. Leading the rangers is Emmanuel De Merode, a Belgian prince who quite literally puts his life on the line to fulfil his duty to save the park and its inhabitants. He’s a man of huge integrity and as the fighting gets closer he declares confidently “I will be the last man to leave”.

But when the camp is evacuated Andre, one of the handlers of the orphaned gorillas also decides to stay. Repeatedly checking his gun as he prepares to defend his gorilla ‘family’ he tells us why: “There comes a moment where you have to justify your life. The gorillas are the reason for my life“.

Virunga is an uplifting film about fragile hope, the costs and rewards of a life of purpose, and the urgent need to appreciate and conserve the wild spaces we have left in the world, and the life that lives there.

Here in the US it’s the last of the wild buffalo who are suffering the effects of politics, consumption and human greed. Every winter the buffalo leave the cold high ground in Yellowstone for the more temperate lowlands. Unfortunately for them the Montana livestock industry doesn’t want to share the public grazing lands they use for cattle so the buffalo are subjected to a range of hazing techniques, from helicopters and four wheelers rounding them up for slaughter to being shot at close range.

Silencing the Thunder, a 26 minute film by Eddie Roqueta is a measured and stunningly shot piece which not only gives all sides a chance to be heard but spends enough time with the buffalo that you feel they are part of the conversation too. It explores the science surrounding Brucellosis, a deadly disease which the ranching community fears will be transmitted to cattle, and raises difficult questions about the ‘management’ of these wild creatures.

But the real heroes of the film are the Buffalo Field Campaign, a team of activist volunteers who patrol the migration routes and seek to document the worst of the abuses, while campaigning for the free passage of the buffalo.

Stephanie Seay from the group sums it up beautifully: ”What it really comes down to is the human commitment to coexist. All we’ve got to do is say yes, we can do this, we can coexist with these animals. We’re smart enough as a species to figure this out. We just have to want to.“

The film did a great job of making this viewer want to. There used to be millions of bison across the United States and the hounding of the remaining few to the edge of extinction should be regarded as a national disgrace. (If this is a cause that resonates you can volunteer with BFC).

Finally, a hard hitting campaign by vegan production company Environment Films about the trade in dogs for meat in Thailand has been making waves. They’ve been working with the Soi Dog Foundation on a documentary about this grisly business for years but their short film featuring celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Dame Judi Dench has just gone viral. The press ran with the story, expanded it to Vietnam and the NYT have just weighed in. Over 600,000 people have now signed this petition asking Thailand’s leaders to put an end to it. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of effect all this international exposure has. Let’s hope there’s a happy ending and that the concern generated extends the debate beyond dogs to include all animals abused for food.

Pick a Phobia, any Phobia!

By Sid Garza-Hillman

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting The Discerning Brute/Joshua Katcher in person. He had been a guest (via Skype) on my podcast only weeks prior, and just by chance was able to come up to the Stanford Inn during a trip to Northern California. I head up the Stanford Inn’s Wellness Center and am the Nutritionist/Health Coach there.

Joshua, his partner James, and I sat down for dinner, and while we talked about many things (fashion included, though why anyone would wear anything other than rolled up 501’s and white t-shirts is beyond me. Maybe I should be more discerning.), the subject of protein came up. Not because any of us—all plant-based—were concerned with protein in the least, but because working at a vegan resort whose clientele are overwhelmingly NOT vegan, I am constantly asked the big protein question—where do vegans get their protein?

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A couple times a week I hang out and walk through the inn’s restaurant and talk to guests. Almost nightly I get the protein question and am there to hopefully dissipate some of the fear around it. I was relating this to Joshua and James and we all decided it should probably be a phobia. And that’s when, through obviously divine inspiration, it hit: PROTEDEFIPHOBIA—the fear of protein deficiency. I think we nailed it, and now just have to figure out the hoops we have to jump through to make it official. Is there a phobia department of the patent office? Should we ‘tm’ it for now (i.e. protedefiphobia™)? Oh, the possibilities. I’m so excited about it that it must be something that deep down I’ve always wanted and finally got: I’m a co-owner of a beautiful baby phobia!

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And yet, a reality check. Fear of protein deficiency is very real. As a species we are designed to protect ourselves and to survive the best we can. Often times corporations/companies/industries feed on this instinct in order to drive sales. The animal food industry is no exception. They succeed every time they convince someone that he or she will suffer greatly without intense amounts of animal protein. However, there are a few pesky facts that hurt their bottom line: 1) whole plants are full of protein 2) the human body performs best on a higher carbohydrate diet (not refined/processed carbohydrates, but whole plant ones) and finally, 3) more and more professional athletes are actually performing and recovering better after switching to whole plants. In my practice I devote a substantial amount of time and effort minimizing the fear around protein. But that’s one of the best parts of my job—helping people be LESS afraid. Less fear, more happiness and health. Pretty simple equation.

So, to those with protedefiphobia™, rest assured, help is on the way. It’s located in the produce section of groceries stores around the world.

Hit Back: Dispatch from the Farm, or Once You Stop You Start to Rot

By Adam Gnade

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Tonight at dusk a big, grey owl swooped down and grabbed one of my favorite chickens–a young Barred Rock I call “Dodo Conway”–and five of Dodo’s sisters raced over and tackled the owl and drummed the hell out of it then chased it off, screeching. Ten minutes later I saw one of those same chickens strutting through the field clutching a snake she’d just killed. This is a rescue farm, a “sanctuary,” but that doesn’t mean the animals play by our rules. They hustle. All day.

The news has been bad from all fronts. There’s no turning away from that, and it’s taken its toll on me. No amount of Mexican beer or social isolation or denial will blot it out. You stay away from the newspapers. You ignore the Internet. Still, planes are shot out of the sky and bombs fall on houses. People are dying everywhere–real people, nice people, people you might’ve been friends with had you been born elsewhere.

It’s getting to me–to say the very least. One of the many burdens of human consciousness and memory is that an idea, a sentence overheard, a bit of news seen on someone’s Facebook feed can latch onto you and burn you up from inside. There are certain things you will never unhear. I remember that from Sandy Hook; some things stick with you forever and sometimes they’re the things you’d rather forget.

Quiet night on the farm with everyone on the road except me. Today two of the local farmers pitched in and hayed our field without even waiting for a thanks. Twenty-five hundred pounds of good brome hay; two and a half round bales, five feet tall by five feet wide, a few months of food for the sheep and goats (and my new place to sit and write). Tonight I’m going to go to town and get some Dos Equis and limes then come back and listen to Castanets’ new song “Out for the West” on repeat and try to write as many letters as I can until I pass out. It’s a way to stop thinking of awful things but it’s also a way to find some easiness of mind and fellowship and joy. These past eight months have been radio silence from me. I’m getting worse and worse at returning correspondence but tonight I’m vowing to keep in touch. People call out to you and you call back to them–if you’re worth a damn. Lately I’ve not been worth much, but I’m trying.

Does it matter? Does anything matter? Sometimes life feels like endless buckets of shit dumped off a cliff onto your head in slow motion while cheesy, porny saxophone music plays. Futile. Empty. Silly. Action without payoff. Ambition without the promise of acknowledgement.

There are no answers but you keep trying. You keep dreaming. You keep writing letters even when you’re a year behind and you keep fighting winged things that want to carry you off into the sky and you keep pushing forward with your dreams held tight. You pay attention but you also give yourself time to breathe.

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My motto right now is an old cheerleader chant Jessie Duke turned into a button for Pioneers Press: Go, fight, win. I wear the button too; right here on my lucky baseball cap.

I know what the inverse of action is and I don’t want anything to do with that. And I know this: Once you stop you start to rot. And by “stop” I don’t mean “relax.” By all means relax every single chance you get. The ability to relax and look inward in the midst of struggle is part of what makes us who we are. But you have to keep believing in your path and in a future where your life will be better than it is now. Belief counts for a lot. So does planning big and shoving yourself into the nasty thick of life. That’s what you need to do: believe, push, pay attention, know when to step back and heal, and don’t mess around with dreamlessness. Go, fight, win.

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Aesop

Aesop is a high-end skin care company based in Melbourne, Australia. Their products range from hydrating cream, to detergent, to animal companion care. The product range is definitively unisex with non-overpowering scents that make an excellent base for colognes/perfumes. It’s an extremely luxurious self-care line with an aesthetic to match.

Aesop products are on PETA’s list of cruelty free companies. In addition, aside from their shaving brush that is made with badger bristles, “No other product in the Aesop range contains animal-derived ingredients (beeswax or honey) at this time”.

“No Aesop product contains colourants, artificial fragrances, mineral oils, silicones, parabens or pearlising agents.”

Some of their body cleansers and shampoos do use Sodium Laureth Sulphate, not to be confused with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, but their levels are far less than the normally used safe levels. They also offer formulations without it.

Aesop products are a mix of biodynamic, organic, conventional and synthetic. They look for the best possible ingredients, but organic is not always available, practical, or when importing would cause an environmental concern of its own.

“All Aesop cleansing products use surfactants which comply with the ‘ultimate biodegradability’ status of the EU Detergents Directive and therefore are compatible with septic tank waste systems. Our products are also phosphate-free and are therefore suitable for use in water-recycling systems.”

Their soap slab and Sage and Zinc facial hydrating cream contain Palm Oil for those that are concerned with Palm Oil ingredients. However, their Palm Oil is sourced from RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified suppliers. “RSPO is an internationally recognised, not-for-profit organisation formed in 2004 to promote the growth and use of sustainable Palm Oil products by creating and monitoring global standards.” They have also purchased GreenPalm Certificates in order to offset the annual usage of any of their products that use Palm Oil. “This includes all ingredients of mixed origin, for example Cetearyl Alcohol, where the fatty acid chain may be obtained from either Coconut or Palm sources. These certificates give money back to growers who are producing sustainable Palm Oil to reward and encourage their efforts.”

More information can be found here.

Check out their kit for a man’s bathroom essentials.

Hit Back: How to Build a Castle

by Adam Gnade

Last night we sat up late talking about sleep anxiety. We were in Muncie en route to New York City for the first date of the book-tour, a three-week run across the Midwest and up through the East Coast–readings in house-parties and motel rooms and vegan diners, farm shows, last-minute booking and a full cut and run from the old system.

Our host sat in her easy chair and lit a cigarette and told us she needed to smoke before bed to calm her nerves. I guess it’s a whatever works thing–drink wine, smoke a cigarette, read until the book hits your face.

Some people fall asleep easy but a lot of us lie in bed running through cycles of fatalism, disaster scenarios, work stress. It’s like the X song goes, “I must not think bad thoughts.” But sometimes you do, and sometimes you can’t push them away. Then you obsess and you don’t sleep at all. Or you lie in bed and stew and feel psychotic until you pass out an hour before your alarm goes off.

What I’ve found is you can build a safe place and block out the darkness. And my shit gets DARK. I try to stay away from unwanted thoughts but the more I try to think of other things the worse my thoughts get until I’m sure the world is over and everything I see is a slasher flick starring the people I love the best.

Here’s how I get past it: As soon as you lie down you come up with a setting. Say, an island off the map, a blip on the screen, the kind of place no one will ever find you. Then you start with the structure. In your mind you build the walls–stonewalls, high and thick and topped with the battlements of a castle. You imagine the brick-work and the creation of the gate. Then you go inside. Pull up the drawbridge and bar it tight. Establish a water source. (A stream that runs through it? A well?)
Dylan Garrett Smith A House For Agatha framed

A House for Agatha by Dylan Garret Smith

Next you map out the crop rows. Plant quinoa for protein. An herb garden with cilantro and rosemary and sage. Tomato plants. Summer squash. Lots of greens. Kale. A mushroom log beneath the trees. Fruit trees? Avocado trees? A peach orchard? A winery? Anything goes.

Then you build your house. A cabin or a cottage tucked back in the sunny tangle of weeds and honeysuckle vine. Nothing fancy. One bedroom, sturdy walls, a simple front-room with a good chair and big windows and bookcases. (Inventory the books … what makes you feel safe? Who do you read to keep in contact with who you are? There are no phones here. No TV. No Internet and no electricity. Live simple. Have simple tastes.) Cooking happens outside in the garden–a fire-pit, or a wood-burning stove in the front-room. Put a rough-cut Adirondack chair on the porch you made with your own hands. A cord of wood if your island has winters. The important part is that it’s safe–a self-sufficient, contained, quiet place where no one can get to you.

Or you bring people in once it’s done; people you love and trust. Sometimes I imagine a small community of my favorite people. Sometimes I’m alone. What matters is you make it secure and benevolent and you leave all the shitty elements outside–and an ocean away. The end of all worries. A disconnect from unwanted deadlines and mean bastards and all forms of negative responsibility.

You build your safe space and pretty soon you’re out. Most of the time I don’t make it past planting my crops before I’m asleep. On bad days I build the fucker five or six times. Of course it’s healthy (and essential) to confront and come to terms with your dark thoughts but there’s a time for that. Do it in the daytime. Don’t keep yourself up and spiral off into a shitty next day. (Life is hard enough without being ill-equipped to handle the minor battles of the day.)

Don’t let the dark stuff in your head eat you up–because it will. It’ll fester and you’ll re-think everything good you’ve ever done and you’ll lose perspective. Get some rest and face it when you’re awake and ready. Don’t get taken. Don’t let dark thoughts take you. Build yourself an island. Build yourself a castle.