Documentaries have the power to tell a story and get a different kind of reaction from an audience than words alone. For animal advocates who work on these films, showing us the actual individual lives of animals and how we’re impacting them is a powerful way to reach a broad audience and effect change for those we call our companions and those who are used and killed for food, clothing, entertainment or research.
From exploring farming practices and environmental issues to animals in entertainment, a few documentaries have had a wide reach and touched many of us, while others are just getting started.
In 2012, nearly 50,000 egg-laying hens were abandoned and left for dead at a farm in Stanislaus County in California and suffered for what officials estimated had been two weeks without food or water. While thousands upon thousands died a heartbreaking death unnoticed, many were saved in what is believed to be the largest farm animal rescue in U.S. history.
Turlock chronicles the efforts of rescuers from Animal Place who fought to save as many hens as they could, even in the face of opposition from local authorities. More importantly, through the perspective of both rescuers and adopters it forces us to reconsider how we see chickens, who have become one of the biggest victims of industrialized agriculture, by looking at the way things are done and the way they could be.
The Ghosts in Our Machine
The Ghosts in Our Machine is a film directed by Liz Marshall that follows Jo-Anne McArthur, whose activism comes in the form of photography as she visits places including fur farms and slaughterhouses, along with rescues, to document the lives of animals who are the “ghosts” we so easily overlook, but use in our every day lives.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
Animal advocates and environmentalists have been warning about the many problems that animal agriculture is causing, but filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn dig further into the truth about just how bad meat is for the world, from habitat loss, harm to wildlife, climate change and the atrocious violence inflicted on the animals who are used by the industry.
Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home
Peaceable Kingdom explores the lives of several people who grew up on traditional farms, but questioned what they were doing and had a change of heart. Directed by Jenny Stein and producer James LaVeck, the film challenges our conceptions about farmers and begs us to ask ourselves how we can say we love animals, while choosing to do things we know cause them harm.
Following an undercover investigation by Animal Defenders International animal circuses were banned in Bolivia, but they still continued illegally. Described as more of an action adventure than a documentary, Lion Ark offers a behind the scenes account of the rescue of 25 lions saved from illegal traveling circuses in Bolivia who eventually make their way to safety at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colo.
Sometimes animal cruelty is blatantly obvious, other times it’s perfectly legal. California veterinarian Jennifer Conrad is on a mission to stop one of those legal cruelties: declawing. After working on big cats who had suffered from this mutilating surgery, she turned her attention to house cats and the footage she had turned into the Paw Project, a documentary that follows her years-long battle to rehabilitate cats and protect other animals from this potentially debilitating procedure.
Maximum Tolerated Dose
Maximum Tolerated Dose follows the lives of both humans and animals who have been involved in animal testing and offers perspectives of those who worked in the industry and suffered from ethical dilemmas that forced them to leave. The title comes from an experiment that involves finding the highest dose of a chemical that can be used on an animal before causing their death.
Last year Predator Defense created a short expose to raise public awareness about the secret war on wildlife that’s being carried out by Wildlife Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The film features former employees who bravely come forward to blow the whistle about the atrocities being carried out on America’s wildlife, in addition to featuring a Congressman who is speaking out in the hope of reforming this wasteful agency.
Even in the face of mounting criticism and scrutiny, new data released this June showed the agency killed a staggering 2 million animals in the past fiscal year alone.
Inspired by the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, Blackfish chronicles the life of SeaWorld’s infamous orca Tilikum and has made waves for captive cetaceans since it was released last year by raising public awareness about their plight. The film also raises serious questions about the effects of keeping these intelligent, social, apex predators in captivity and forces us to reconsider the ethics of confining them in tanks and forcing them to perform for entertainment.
The Oscar Award winning documentary The Cove exposed something that horrified the world – the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins in the town of Taiji, Japan, and how their mercury-laden meat is being sold to the public. Since it was released, it has brought international attention to the fight to save these dolphins and has put the spotlight on how the brutal slaughter is tied into the captivity industry.
Photo credit: Thinkstock