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29 July 2007 @ 09:47 pm
MIFF day 2  
Day 2 proved more sociable, since I caught up with friends between movies and went out for drinks after the last movie--alcohol was definitely required after that one. *g*

Your Mommy Kills Animals
Going in, I didn't know much about the ways in which animal rights activists and animal welfare advocates clash. I also didn't know that in 2005 the FBI had determined that animal rights activists were the number one domestic terrorist threat. There was a lot in this documentary that surprised me and pushed me to articulate my own position on complex issues. The filmmaker interviews people on many different sides of the debate and it doesn't push a clear agenda, so it's 'hard work' as viewing (as well as containing some confronting images), but ultimately very interesting.

Much of the documentary focuses on the 'SHAC 7'. SHAC (Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty) was a group that campaigned against the chemical testing carried out by UK company Huntington. They successfully deterred investors and prevented it from floating on the US stock exchange. However, their aggressive tactics (eg demonstrations at stakeholders' homes) and their inflammatory publications left them as an open target. The FBI arrested six members and they were tried and convicted for inciting domestic terrorism. They are the most unassuming 'terrorists' you could possibly imagine--they mostly seemed to be sweet, quietly spoken young men who hadn't actually participated in the most offensive demonstrations themselves. I don't condone their actions but I also don't think they deserved their prison sentences and millions of dollars in damages. It seems like the new climate in the US is allowing the government to crack down on organisations whose message it doesn't like. For instance, none of the right-to-life campaigners, who have used similarly violent measures (more violent given that people have actually died) have been convicted under these laws.

The documentary also sheds light on organisations like PETA (an animal rights organisation) and the American Humane Society, arguing both are great spin doctors. Apparently the Humane Society took much credit for rescuing pets after Katrina, but grassroots organisations and the military themselves were more effective. Meanwhile the big animal welfare groups milked many thousands of dollars in donations and have not been made accountable for this. The documentary debunks the idea that these organisations actively try to find homes for animals they 'rescue'--PETA, in particular, advocates euthanasia for animals it rescues.

A lot of the evidence in this movie made me think twice, and it's certainly not a black and white issue, especially since we all benefit from animal testing. It was also interesting to hear about the way celebrities often pick up on animal cruelty as a cause--and to hear the cynicism about this from within the rights movement. It also made me curious about those who evidently did have an informed and sympathetic view on the issue (Howard Stern supported the documentary, for instance) and about the situation in my own country, since slightly different organisations function here.

It was quite long, but as you can see gave me lots of food for thought. Definitely very intelligent film-making about a legal, ethical and moral minefield.

My best friend and his wife
Korean cinema has had a big presence at MIFF over the last five years, but the selection this year wasn't as strong. And I probably picked the wrong Korean movie with this one. Don't get me wrong--it's very well acted and directed. It's intense professional cinema, and it reminded me of French cinema from the 90s--I'm not sure why, possibly the infuriating misogyny as well as the slick professionalism. ;-)

I don't think it was intended this way, but the movie felt like an excruciating study in male stupidity to me. The two men are both inept in different ways. Jae-moon, is a young cook--he's not a big success in life but he does have an attractive young wife, pregnant with their first child. His best friend Ye-jun, on the other hand, has a successful career, but lacks social skills, especially with women. They share an intense friendship (yes, homoerotic, but SO not hot because they're both bastards) which Jae-moon's wife is openly jealous about. The worst qualities of both men combine, triggering a tragic event. In the fallout, all three spiral out of control.

Ye-Jun's wife (the fact that I can't remember her name is pretty telling) is likeable enough until the second half of the movie and I spent most of the movie in silent rage on her behalf. Then she too lost my sympathy and at one point I would have been happy if they'd all died in a fiery inferno, and I would have been much happier if the final scene had been edited out. I never want to see this movie again. But it was well made. Honest! ;-)

My Kid Could Paint That
At four years old Marla Olmstead shot to fame in the media and art world, her paintings selling for up to $25,000. This documentary takes an inside look at the Olmstead family and also explores the idea people have about modern art being 'something a kid could paint'. It provides lots of funny moments as well as being an interesting look at the art world.

While the documentary was being shot, 60 Minutes aired speculation that Marla's paintings were not all her own work, and so the documentary shifted to respond to this, as the family dealt with the fallout from the criticism. This ends up making the documentary stronger as it starts to explore issues of authenticity--according to her parents, Marla is very shy and won't paint freely if she knows a camera is watching. The media had a lot to do with Marla's sudden fame and the filmmaker interviews the first journalist who picked up on the story. She's a perceptive woman who I really warmed to--and she starts telling the filmmaker he needs to decide what he's trying to get out of the story.

The Olmsteads are not obvious manipulators--if anything they seem naive. The mother in particular is a sympathetic woman who repeatedly says she'd be happy for it to all stop. But they get caught up in the celebrity media hype and seem unable to stop. I felt particularly sorry for Marla's younger brother, left out of the spotlight. And I was reminded of an article I read recently about Bindi Irwin, Steve Irwin's celebrity daughter, where those around her insisted they were only doing it 'as long as Bindi's still enjoying it'. But I can't help thinking that kids don't know any better. She might not feel the lack of a normal childhood right now... but how will she look back on it when she's older?

A Savage Grace
Julianne Moore's performance in this movie is outstanding. It's an exceptionally well made movie, but at times very uncomfortable viewing. Julianne plays social climber Barbara Daly who married into the Baekeland family (heirs to the Bakelite plastics fortune). She and her husband Brooks live a surreal high society lifestyle and have a tempestuous relationship. The film is narrated by her son Eddie, who grows up close to his emotionally volatile mother, though his homosexuality troubles her.

All of the performances in this movie are outstanding and the score and cinematography are wonderful. The sense of claustrophobia and increasing disturbance is built up perfectly. There are some pretty confronting scenes towards the end of the movie, which I suspect it will become famous for. The strangeness and hyperreality of the world that these people lived in in the 60s and 70s meant that I didn't really relate to any of the characters. But in this movie, it didn't matter. In that way, it's a rather voyeuristic look at an incestuous world of money, lies, mindgames and self-deception on an epic scale. It tells a unique and frightening story about the price paid for these lives. The filmmaker introduced it by reminding us that truth is stranger than fiction--and this movie, based on real events, definitely proves that to be true.
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(Anonymous) on July 29th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for the kind words about "Your Mommy Kills Animals". It was hard keeping the running time as low as possible since the movement is way bigger than I knew going in. With all the footage we shot, it definitely could've been a mini-series.

Curt Johnson
Nora Norwich: watching TVnorwich36 on July 29th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you're having fun at the film festival. Sorry I haven't been commenting much lately--I'm in hermit mode, and I know you don't have a lot of online time, so I've been quiet.

"Your Mommy Kills Animals" sounds really interesting to me, though if it's defining PETA as an animal welfare rather than animal rights group, I'm a little confused about the definitions it is using. In the U.S., anyway, "animal welfare" groups have traditionally been organizations like the Humane Society, that work to get laws passed to ensure decent treatment of pets and other domestic animals, but which don't take stances on animal rights issues like meat eating, factory farming, wearing fur, hunting, etc. Animal rights organizations oppose all those things, and PETA in particular has a history of being quite confrontational (though not violent) on issues like wearing fur and animal experimentation. I believe PETA activists used to throw red paint on people wearing fur, for example, though in the past decade or so they've mostly limited themselves to ad campaigns like "I'd rather go naked than wear fur."

I had heard a little bit about groups like the Animal Liberation front, that did more direct actions like sabotaging labs where animal experimentation was performed, but I'd like to hear more about this, so I'm very interested in the film. I'm especially interested to see how the documentarians define "animal rights" and "animal welfare," since if they're defining PETA as animal welfare, I guess I've been using that term incorrectly.

You are too correct about the ways that domestic terrorism laws in the U.S. have been used to target certain kinds of political activism. (Direct action environmental groups have also been a big target).
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!bop_radar on July 29th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
Er, no, that would be my fatigue showing. I meant to write 'animal rights' and will now edit it. *headdesk*
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K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Kittenbop_radar on July 30th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)
I'm one of those crazy propaganda-loving animal rights people.
Heee hee! I think you'd get a kick out of the documentary then. ;) I started out thinking I'd find them all too radical, but I ended up quite sympathetic. However, I don't take the hardline stance that people shouldn't keep any pets at all, and I'm concerned about the ethics of some of the actions--e.g. releasing mink into the wild damages profits, but destroys local ecosystems (and other animals), faxing reems of black paper to a company as sabotage (save the animals, destroy the planet?!).

Have you seen the TV series Planet Earth?
I haven't but I know it's very highly acclaimed. I've always meant to get it out on DVD some time. I like good quality nature documentaries so it's definitely on my 'to see' list. *g*
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K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Dead Like Mebop_radar on July 30th, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)
One thing I forgot, as to the euthanasia of rescued animals: did the film mention in what context animals were put to sleep, and what methods were used?
Yes, it did in quite a lot of detail. In particular it focused on the euthansia of relatively healthy animals that would have been rehabilitated by, for example, a local community shelter. I think the figures they quoted for PETA were about 2,200 animals rescued and 1900 euthanised. That's really high when compared to shelters elsewhere! And they showed evidence of the animals being killed pretty brutally in some shelters, and of bodies being dumped in local garbage centres and so on. One of the problems seems to be that there are extremists in those groups who believe NO animals should be kept as pets--they'd rather they were dead. It's a really grey area, of course--and it takes a lot of resources to rehabilitate animals. I've tried and failed to save a feral cat myself.

And most animal rights organizations aim to end animal cruelty - as in, cruelty during the animal's life and an inhumane death - rather than the actual death itself.
Yup--it's something I would never have questioned before seeing the documentary. I would have felt confident that those organisations were euthanising in 'caring' circumstances. But now I'd be asking a lot more questions about any centre I went to and I'd want to know that the animals weren't (for example) being brutally killed in front of one another. It was also interesting to hear that in countries like Germany, it's illegal to kill a lost companion animal--it's a challenge to our values and suggests that there are better uses for resources. I think my personal belief is that if money went to the right sort of funding, there wouldn't be as much need to kill lost or unhealthy animals.
Fleegull: Mom/Daughterfleegull on July 29th, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC)
Howard Stern supported the documentary, for instance

I could have told you that! Howard loves animals and just last week he was walking in a beach and saw a bird with what looked like a broken wing and he sat with it and called for help. Meanwhile the beach was packed and tons of people walked right by the bird ad did nothing. He also did the same thing for a rabbit that he and his girlfriend found in Central Park two years ago.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Audrey Tautoubop_radar on July 30th, 2007 02:10 am (UTC)
Hee! I thought of you. ;-) There was high praise from some of the interviewees in the doco for his girlfriend, who they felt was one of the few celebrities who really made the effort to find out about the organisations she supports--they showed her supporting a local shelter and it was clear she'd gone there and was happy with the way they managed things. If only more people were like her! ;) That was really good to hear--I can't imagine endorsing an organisation I didn't feel confident in ethically.
jude_judith82: andyjude_judith82 on July 29th, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
Yay another Boppy post. The one that sounded the most interesting to me is My Kid Could Paint That. I've had so many conversations with friends and family about modern art and the look at celebrity in children is compelling. I'm enjoying these and look forward to more.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Dexterbop_radar on July 30th, 2007 02:13 am (UTC)
Thank you! :-) I'm glad you're enjoying them. I'd definitely recommend 'My Kid Could Paint That'. It's both entertaining and intelligent. I like a lot of modern art, but I also understand why people look at some of it and think it's not worth the price tag. I also tend to think it's like wine--you like what you like, regardless of how much it costs. But the build-up of 'celebrity' status for some artists definitely influences people's aesthatics--as the documentary explores often the story that goes with the painting (child prodigy!) is more important than the painting itself.
brokenmnemonic: Paganbrokenmnemonic on July 30th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC)
I'm bouncing around LJ (three days away, and I'm soo far behind it's insane) but I thought I'd add my tuppence worth on the films and their subjects as and when I get a chance ;)

SHAC is one of those organisations that's hit the press a few times around here. There have always been protests about animal experimentation, of varying degrees of sanity. You mentioned in comments the group that released thousands of mink into the UK countryside to "save them" from a fur farm - an adult pair of American Mink have a hunting range of 50 square miles, and as a result entire ecosystems have been wiped out here - particularly water voles, moles and other such creatures. The organisation that released them has been extremely vocal about what a great thing it did, and very quiet about the amount of ecological damage done; that's a minor side effect in their holy crusade [/sarcasm]

SHAC and those operating around HLS are something I kept an eye on, because I know several people who work in the biosciences field, and it's one of those areas that always causes debate. I have no issue myself with animal testing for legitimate research purposes - there are areas of medicine and toxicology where you reach a point where it's either got to be animal testing or human testing, and I think most test subjects would put their lives ahead of your average rat. That said, I've been opposed to testing for cosmetics purposes ever since I first read about it - but I've found that the animal rights activists I've met have all been so fanatical in their views that it makes me uncomfortable.

HLC typified that - did you hear that they dug up the body of the mother in law of the man who ran a farm that bred guinea pigs for HLS, and refused to return it unless the farm owner immediately stopped supplying HLS with guinea pigs? And that was just the culmination of the campaign - before that, he and his family had been subjected to "a long-running campaign by animal rights activists, suffering hate mail, malicious phone calls, hoax bombs, a paedophile smear campaign and arson attacks."

As you can imagine, that led to calls for a clampdown here - and one of the problems that always exists is that a lot of the more extreme individuals belong to multiple groups, which results in lots of groups that believe in peaceful lobbying and protest being tarred with the same brush as those that are basically collections of frothing maniacs. Yes, I know that's a little extreme as statements go... but then so are some of the people involved.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Retro girlbop_radar on July 30th, 2007 11:22 pm (UTC)
I'm soo far behind it's insane
Oh, I win hands down in that competition! I haven't dared go on my f'list yet after 10 days away. Can you imagine! O.O I have very little time online at the moment with house in a shambles, but I'm stealing time at work to answer comments. :)

of varying degrees of sanity
Yeah, that was the impression I got from the doco--some of their actions seemed pretty insane. However, it also seems like certain members were scapegoated by the authorities--not necessarily those who participated in the most offensive actions. It ended up seeming like there was stupidity on both sides--SHAC and the authorities.

as a result entire ecosystems have been wiped out here
That is so frakked up. And yes, the impression I got from the documentary was that there were some serious ethical clashes between different factions, with some condemning such actions, others thinking it was 'fine'. Personally I think that's appalling. Just as I didn't find the faxing of black paper very 'harmless' either. They joked about how it wasn't exactly Al Quaeda. Well, no, it wasn't. But it's also a very stupid wasteful kind of sabotage for people who claim to be interested in the well-being of living creatures.

I've been opposed to testing for cosmetics purposes ever since I first read about it
Yeah, so am I. And I also think there should probably be tighter regulations about management of animal testing for medical purposes. One of the most chilling things in the doco was the news that basically the results of SHAC's actions had meant that Huntington now conducts tests in third-world countries with little regulation rather than in the US or UK where they would be subject to scrutiny. Great! That's wonderful short-sightedness on the part of activists! I would much rather the testing was being done in well-regulated countries. Gah! With cosmetics, I'm definitely opposed, but then I think cosmetics themselves are a social menace. ;) One of the problems is that a lot of chemicals get tested for multiple purposes though, so it's all very grey and muddy. But I would think better regulation would benefit both humans and animals--I mean who wants to think chemicals are being tested in filthy laboratories?

did you hear that they dug up the body of the mother in law of the man who ran a farm that bred guinea pigs for HLS, and refused to return it unless the farm owner immediately stopped supplying HLS with guinea pigs?
WOAH! That's crazy and horrific. No, I hadn't heard that.

a lot of the more extreme individuals belong to multiple groups, which results in lots of groups that believe in peaceful lobbying and protest being tarred with the same brush as those that are basically collections of frothing maniacs
Yup, that seems to be a problem in most movements. The irresponsibility of some members damages the legitimacy of an entire movement. But I'm not convinced the authorities got the real crazies. And there was also a strong suggestion that the aggressive prosecution would just further radicalise the movement. Sigh.

Btw, I should be honest and say that I know someone working in the biosciences too. She's testing drugs for schizophrenia on mice--something I'm very sympathetic towards. She also wishes she could take the mice home as pets--they make her sad. ;)