Curt Johnson’s first feature bodes well for his future as a filmmaker. The ever-controversial subject of animal rights vs. human rights is remarkably balanced: those who believe “companion” animals should have the same advantages (or more in the case of Hollywood) pitbulled against those who love their fur, cosmetics and insulin.
The overt enemy of the purposely underground Animal Liberation Front is Huntington Life Sciences—a U.K.-based international corporation that is not averse to killing bunnies, dogs and monkeys so as to make the planet safer for humans. But how to get the message across to the bloody-value-for-shareholders’ executives? Easy: bring it to their workplace and homes. Through many clips from the archives, those who experiment on the cute, helpless creatures are berated and, well, barked at via megaphones and gruesome posters that bring a wholly different meaning to “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Many of these protests are organized and “researched” by public charities such as SHAC (Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty—an in-your-face band of activists whose antics are first noticed then indicted by the FBI) and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—a much more upscale army of do-gooders, whose legion of celebrity supporters keeps the balance sheet strong even as some of their employees seize, kill and dump thousands of critters who were facing certain death in various types of shelters).
The shelters themselves come in two distinct types: (a) those (“humane” societies everywhere) whose Society-for-the-Prevention-of-Cruelty-to-Animals values have a fixed shelf life (once expired the largely abandoned, comfort-giving pets are efficiently dispatched) (b) those (e.g., Michael Mountain’s Best Friends Sanctuary) that are the animal hostelry of last resort for the infirm or no-longer-wanted-on-life’s-voyage creatures. Turns out that the Humane Society of the United States is a whiz at pulling in cash (reportedly spending 50%+ of its millions on fundraising should yield some success), but barely made a dent in the carnage in Katrina’s wake—only humans were evacuated. Just ask their competing—oops, I mean complementary—not-for-profit sisters of support, and—unbeknownst to the easily confused public—flows nary a penny to the hundreds of humane society locations in the fifty states.
But wait! The balaclava-sporting ALF agents start to have some success. Animals are “released” (many to face an uncertain if, nonetheless, “free” future in the wild), buildings are vandalized and torched (one member gives a very informative “how to” demonstration), and—the coup de grâce—Huntington Inc. is dumped by the New York Stock Exchange and its primary banker. Now its war!
In 2005, the government of America declares ALF and its supporters to be terrorists—“bunny huggers” are as dangerous as Osama bin Laden. But like insurgents everywhere, they’re hard to find and then forced into cages of their own. No worries. The SHAC-7 (led by twentysomethings Kevin Djonaas and Josh Harper—the latter’s physique and demeanour are marvellously reinforced by Drew Carey’s brief but effective comment: “PETA can blow me.”) are indicted (yet released in just four hours—what kind of terrorist is that?), put on trial and, inevitably, given the “sleepy,” elderly jury (hardly judgment from their peers) and the skillful presentation of evidence of the “direct action” of others, convicted.
Perhaps the wisdom of the more experienced whale protector, Paul Watson (most recently featured in Sharkwater, cross-reference below), might have kept the angry young men out of the clink. Clearly on the opposite side of those who by words or deeds try to protect the defenceless animals is David Martosko. Looking resplendent in a custom-tailored suit and silk tie, the mouthpiece for the Center for Consumer Freedom takes huge delight in humiliating his adversaries whether it be Mary Beth Sweetland’s, (PETA Vice President) dependency on insulin (couldn’t have it without animal research) or chesty model Pam Anderson’s “horror” at artificially enlarging chicken breasts for profit (the accompanying images could well become the benchmark for “Do as I say, not as I do.”).
Sadly, nothing will ever change. Like chasing the cheapest labour in the most corporate-friendly jurisdictions (compellingly documented in Shipbreakers, cross-reference below), if vivisection doesn’t happen in New Jersey, it will find a home elsewhere. Animal carnage, similar to war, will continue unabated.
Inadvertently, Johnson’s film works even better on another level (and one that should be delved into as soon as his schedule permits and his quartet of executive producers finds the cash). With so many charities vying for public and government cash to improve America’s track record of being “kind” to man’s best friend, little progress has been made. Can that be the only “good work” organizational initiative that has become moribund and mired in the greed (both power and cash) of its advocates and staff? JWR