Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Worthwhile documentary

As a friend said after we watched the new HBO documentary I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA, "A lot of people need to see it."

This is a fascinating and well-made film. Because PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - works to expose the horrors that animals face in slaughterhouses, laboratories, fur farms and so on, the film is in many places difficult to watch. It is remarkable that the filmmakers don't flinch from showing some of the graphic footage of animal cruelty that PETA has obtained through its investigations.

And it's appropriate that it premiered on Nov. 19, during the week of Thanksgiving, since part of the film focuses on a PETA investigation of a turkey slaughterhouse. The abuses described and videotaped inside the slaughterhouse should change meat eaters' minds about the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

I was tempted in spots to turn the movie off or turn away, but it is worth it not to. It is inspiring in showing how much one person can accomplish through passionate commitment. It will also inspire many people to have more compassion, and express it in how they live their lives.

While it ended up increasing my respect for Newkirk, the film doesn’t paint a simplistic portrait of her. It spends a fair amount of time with critics of PETA and Newkirk, both those opposed to animal rights, and animal-rights supporters who believe that PETA's tactics are so outrageous that they hurt the movement.

But Newkirk is eloquent in her contention that in an era when news coverage is often reduced to brief video clips and sound bites, it takes outrageous stunts to catch the public's attention.

The film also shows moments leavened with humor and tenderness, as when a turkey rescued during the course of the slaughterhouse investigation is taken to a shelter. During a stopover at PETA's headquarters, the turkey clearly enjoys the music that her rescuers play for her.

HBO has showings of I Am An Animal scheduled through December. And it is available through HBO on Demand through Dec. 23. For more information and schedules, go here. PETA has information about the film – including a brief video response by Newkirk to the documentary and a chance to win a DVD of it, here.

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