In February of last year, I received an email from a wonderful friend of mine, Kari Nienstedt, Arizona’s State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. She was connecting me to the also wonderful Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary in an effort to help me share my technical skills with that wonderful organization. As it turned out, they had solved whatever technical needs they had, but Bruce passed my contact information onto the tireless animal advocate, founder of The Humane League, and author of Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, Nick Cooney. Nick, now the Compassionate Communities Campaign Manager at Farm Sanctuary, had co-written a short-film, along with Bruce Friedrich, telling the story of three factory-farmed animals lucky enough to find themselves rescued and living out their days in peaceful bliss at Farm Sanctuary’s breathtaking facilities.
It was Kismet, I was sure. I was taking film classes, and working on some other film projects, and though I hadn’t reached out with this in mind, the Universe saw fit to provide an opportunity anyway. Thanks, Universe!
Nick and I began work on the film a month or so later, once more necessary footage became available. I began poring over so many hours of footage, I’ve lost count. These were undoubtedly the hardest hours I have ever spent producing a film — atrocities we ultimately opted to exclude from the film will be forever seared into my mind’s eye. Seeing the footage — footage you know someone risked their life to capture — and witnessing the fear and wailing and screams and horrifying conditions under which these poor creatures are forced to live their not mercifully short enough lives changes you, or you’re heartless.
With a rough assembly put together early in the summer, we began to feel as though something powerful and moving was within our grasp. The search was underway for the right voice, the right narrator to help further bring the film to life. It was important that the emotional message of the film reach the right audience. Young people are perhaps more flexible, less set in their ways and open to changing habits when they see a persuasive truth. When Steve-O of Jackass fame signed on to narrate, we knew it could be dynamite. With his demographic reach and transformative journey-line, he would facilitate the delivery of the film to an audience who quite possibly was perfect for the message. With the juxtaposition of his antics and past tribulations, with the positive compassionate thread within the film, a certain cognitive dissonance became an edge for the movie. (continued after embedded video)
We screened the film for a select audience in Phoenix in November, a short time before its official launch at Pomegranate Cafè in Phoenix, during one of Nick’s powerful talks. As the film began, I watched anxiously, cycling between the screen and the audience. I hoped deeply that people in the chairs would connect with the pictures on the screen; I hoped that these powerful stories and images would move them. I watched as one after another, eyes welled up with tears, heads nodded and hand-in-hand, they took the picture in. As the credits began to roll, there was silence. For a few moments, nobody moved and I feared it had been too much. As we had developed the visual version of Nick’s powerful story, we made conscious choices to go only so far, to make the story accessible while still providing the whole truth. Had we missed that mark? Had we still gone too far?
Thankfully, a collective sigh later, the wonderful group of compassionate animal-loving advocates sounded their applause and while the weight of the story hung heavy in the room, the energy still was electric. Thoughtful questions came next as we all shared this experience and the dialogue that ensued was fantastic; transformational for some, including myself. It’s wonderful to have anything to do with creating a powerful conversation and with causing people to think.
As I pen this, the video has received hundreds of thousands of views, and on both the stand-alone web site and YouTube page, powerful debate goes on daily. Some of the commentary makes me question the collective intelligence of web-based public debate, but in the end, once again, people are talking — sometimes yelling — and hearts and minds are changing.
All in all, the film took hundreds of hours to produce, not to mention the efforts of those amazing investigators and wonderful organizations that made the movie possible by incurring great risk acquiring the powerful footage. If in the end, if we collectively change just one mind — one person’s behavior — it means so much less suffering for so many animals, and that is priceless.
Thank you to Nick Cooney, Bruce Friedrich, Kari Nienstedt for making this happen. Thank you for spending every minute making life better for animals — never losing patience — sometimes just one inch at a time.
Thanks to (in no particular order):
Compassion Over Killing
Mercy For Animals
The Humane Society of the United States
Anonymous for Animal Rights
The Association for the Study of Animal Behavior
The Ghosts in Our Machine