Sunday, January 29, 2012

Artivist Film Festival's Animal Advocacy Showcase, NYC

By Rational Animal intern, Nicole Mak
Edited and with contributions by Courtney Kistler

On January 26, 2012, in its eighth annual film tour and visit to New York City, the Artivist Film Festival and Artivist Awards showcased three films focusing on animal advocacy at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. Founded in 2003, the Artivist Film Festival uses film to raise awareness for international human rights, children’s advocacy, environmental preservation, and animal advocacy. Each film sought to convey to its audience issues of the animal industry and why vegetarianism and veganism were necessary responses to these atrocities.

The first featured was Together: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins, a short film showing spinner dolphins and their curiosity of the unknown. Only a few minutes long, the film sought to evoke a smile from the audience as they witnessed a dance between a snorkeler and three spinner dolphins. This film reminded us how beautiful we perceive animals in the wild to be, and in comparison to the next two films, eased us into the idea of living peacefully and sustainably with animals.

The second film was called Farm to Fridge by Mercy for Animals. For me personally, it is the most graphic animal rights video I’ve ever seen. As a former omnivore converted pescatarian, I have seen my share of animal rights shock and awe videos. This one, however, didn’t hesitate to bombard the audience with clip after clip of animals on American farms (most of them were factory farms) being castrated, crushed, beaten and hacked in the most inhumane and nauseating ways imaginable. Narrated by
Oscar-nominee and TV actor, James Cromwell, this film takes you on an eye-opening exploration behind the closed doors of the nation’s industrial poultry, pig, dairy, and fish farms, hatcheries, and slaughter plants – revealing the often-unseen journey that animals make from the farm to the American fridge, and eventually to the serving plate.
View entire film online; order free copy.

As I looked at the viewers’ heads in my line of vision, I saw many were looking down. Gasps and whispered cries could be heard all around me as the film revealed that it was common to smash piglets to the ground—headfirst—as a way to euthanize them.

Five minutes into this film I told myself I would become a vegan.

Seeing so much gore when you don’t expect it can be very mind altering. I don't think anyone in the audience left that theater feeling unaffected by that film. It made you hypersensitive. Suddenly you couldn’t help but think about all the animal related items you’d seen that, prior to this experience, you wouldn’t have giv
en a second thought about. As the film played, my stomach felt cold and empty, and I wanted to look away. What convinced me to keep watching was that all of this is real. By looking away we are denying what we, as Americans, demand. The only way to change these horrific animal practices is to face the music. It was obvious what the film was asking us to do: become vegan.

While the first film closed off amidst smatterings of chitchat, the second film left the audience dead silent. The last film tried to comfort and then engage the audience. Vegucated sought to
bring back humor and warmth to the theatre. Filmed in 2005 New York City and at various spots in New England, this 80-minute film is about three omnivores who volunteer (for no compensation, other than several delicious meals, field trips, and life-changing learning experiences) to undergo a complete vegan transformation over the course of 6 weeks. The writer and executive producer, Marisa Miller Wolfson, starred in the film as the provider of this “vegucation” and as intermittent narrator. Similar in tactic to Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, Wolfson educated Brian, Ellen, and Tesla and the viewing audience on how to start from the ground up to become vegan.

Marisa definitely made the education fun by taking them to places like Moo Shoes in downtown NYC and Ooh Mah Nee farm animal sanctuary. At one point, the crew spontaneously decided to stop off at a factory farm property and walk right up to one of the buildings. Surprisingly, not one person came out of that building or surrounding area to ask questions. Just outside the building, they discovered an open truck wagon containing the carcasses of two pigs. On the rest of the drive home, the dialogue between Tesla and Brian was heated and passionate. They were truly embracing the facts and sad reality about farm animals in America.

I liked that the film showed each volunteer’s drop in blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight after the mere 6 week period without overemphasizing these metrics. The main focus, really, was to de-alienate veganism. In choosing volunteers who fit the majority of meat and dairy eating Americans and mentioning popular American foods that were already vegan (chocolate frosting??), the film allowed the audience to reconsider their mainstream perception of the vegan next door. Marisa interviewed people on the streets of New York in the beginning of the film, asking them if they could go vegan, and getting pretty much the same response from each one: "No.", "Nah." or "I don't think so." This film took a clever, creative approach and truly broke down that resistance, as exemplified by the three different people who took on the vegan challenge.

After watching From Farm to Fridge, I wanted to be vegan. Watching Vegucated brought encouragement. By seeing the small steps that the volunteers were taking, I realized that I was already taking those steps. The film left me feeling good. Happy for the newly converted vegan and vegetarian volunteers in the film, it gave me a sense that I could do it too. That’s why I’m starting on my road to veganism!

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