There are a few films I recommend to people looking to learn about how animals are exploited in our society. The truth is, they are very hard to watch. And with good reason. It is a horrible subject and the footage can be very graphic and disturbing. Films like Meet Your Meat and Earthlings are some of the most heartwrenching films I have ever seen.
Over the last few years there has been a somewhat different approach to bringing the subject of animal abuse to the forefront, and I think it is working. Films like Vegucated, Blackfish, and The Cove are talking about exploitation in a whole new way. These films are beautifully made and tell a compelling story that is hard not to watch.
Most recently, I was honored to have had the chance to watch an advance screening of The Ghosts in Our Machine. And while the subject matter was indeed dark, and difficult, the film was exceedingly adept at making the viewer aware of how animals are being abused, exploited, and used for human pleasure, food, and fur in a way that is non threatening and nonaccusatory. A skill I have yet to perfect in my personal proselytizing. The film is, for lack of a better word...beautiful. It follows animal rights photographer Jo-Anne McArthur as she takes haunting images of animals.
I was super excited at the opportunity to interview film maker Liz Marshall about her important film The Ghosts in Our Machine, scheduled for release in the US in November.
What inspired you to make this film? My partner in life Lorena Elke, she challenged me to tackle the animal issue, and it's been very rewarding; this project has widened my worldview. Prior to making THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE I was focused on films about human and environmental issues, and this film is still very grounded in the human condition. So, Lorena inspired me initially and then Jo-Anne McArthur inspired the approach I wanted to take. Her photographs invite the viewer to consider nonhuman animals as individuals; I wanted the film to do that as well.
How did you come to meet Jo-Anne McArthur? Through Lorena, and then we developed our own connection as fellow documentarians. We both live in Toronto.
Were you (are you) vegan prior to making the film? How long have you been? And what inspired you to be vegan? Back in the early 90s I decided to become vegetarian after reading Diet For a New America. Over the years I generally maintained a veg diet, was always sympathetic to the animal issue and to suffering in general, whether it be injustice towards humans or the planet or to animals. But I was quite resistant to veganism because I assumed it was limiting - I love food and I am a free spirit and was resistant to making the switch. Fast forward to 2010 when I started developing and researching the issues for this film in a much deeper way, specifically the dairy industry, my eyes were opened to realities that I had previously ignored. My blinders were removed, and I started 'seeing' the ghosts everywhere within our pervasive consumer world. This horrified me. From there I was one step closer to making the decision, but still afraid of making the commitment. In the summer of 2011 we followed the story (filmed) of Fanny and Sonny, the two cows in the film who are rescued from the dairy industry by Farm Sanctuary, that was when it became quite emotional and undeniable for me, I became crystal clear in my head and in my heart that I didn't want to support animal industries any longer. I made the decision to be vegan and it felt like I was suddenly seeing the world with new glasses, it was a very big deal for me; a leap not a step. My personal journey with this helps me to understand the resistance to it, and the misconceptions. I brought that lens and perspective to the filmmaking process, because I wanted to make a film that would lessen the gap (chasm) between the vegan world and the non-vegan world, to have that larger audience.
What do you hope viewers take away from this film? Awareness and empathy and self-reflection.
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered when making the film? There was (and is) a polarized response from the film/documentary industry, and from people in general. Either people are very intrigued and THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE piques their curiosity or there is the extreme opposite. There is no middle ground. This is an advantage and a disadvantage. It is a reflection of what is happening in society at large. The animal issue is gaining momentum is some circles, and is still disregarded and marginalized in other circles. We released the film at the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival (the film was voted a Top Ten Audience Favorite), and it was then booked in 11 cities across Canada, and we are now releasing the film theatrically in NYC and LA in November. For details: theghostsinourmachine.com It has been a lot of work, we don't have a big studio behind us, but people are noticing the film, it's getting out there and generating a lot of discussion and buzz.
As an animal rights activist myself, I often find people to be cruel and judgmental, often accusing me of caring for the animals more than human animals. Have you encountered any of this in the making of this film? For example, "Why are you spending so much time and effort making a film about the suffering of animals, when you should be making a film about human suffering?" A little bit but mostly I think people, colleagues, associates have been quite respectful of my choice to make this film, and they appreciate that the tone and approach is not condemning.
What is the one thing you could change in the world...right now...money and reality is not a concern...if you could? I love questions like this! I would order a massive infusion of love and empathy into the souls of all humans, and then see what would happen ...
Please join me in spreading the word about this important piece of cinema. Visit the website and download images to share on all of your social media pages. Spread the word about the US release in November and help raise awareness in your community.