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When director Liz Marshall was doing advance promotion for her 2013 film The Ghosts in Our Machine, she called it “a multi-platform endeavor.” That description stuck with me, and so I was not surprised when I read about a new study examining the impact Ghosts has had on the public. This 34-page report says a lot about how animal rights documentaries engage viewers and ultimately change hearts and minds.

ImpactReport1-300x230Part of the study reports on the results of a free screening of the film made available for three days. More than 4,500 people from more than 90 countries watched Ghosts during that 72-hour period, and their responses were evaluated by the Humane Research Council. Prior to seeing the film, viewers’ knowledge was mixed regarding the treatment of animals on farms, in research laboratories, and in zoos and aquariums. Fifty-four percent considered themselves “very” knowledgeable, 44 percent said they were “somewhat” knowledgeable, and 3 percent were “not at all” knowledgeable of the issues.

After watching Ghosts, 96 percent said animal rights is an important social justice issue, 85 percent said the film had a “great deal” of influence on them, and 92 percent of viewers said afterward that they believed nonhuman animals are conscious and capable of feeling pleasure, pain, fear, and attachment.

The report charts the film’s success as an outreach model for animal advocacy, but it also demonstrates the ongoing challenge of Results_Ghoststhe animal rights movement: How to get the 75 percent of adults who say the protection of animals is important to change their consumer behavior. After all, if the majority of people believe they have an obligation to protect animals, why do they continue to eat meat, wear leather, and patronize businesses that keep animals in captivity?

I asked Liz why doing this report was so important. “Making a documentary is fully immersive and takes years,” she said. “The old distribution model is to make a film and walk away and allow distributors to handle its dissemination. What we are facing today is a very different, more engaged model. With Ghosts, it wasn’t enough to just make the film and to fulfill a global outreach and engagement distribution campaign. I felt it was equally important to gauge the film’s impact on audiences. Producing a formal evidence-based Impact Report is a tangible way to present our findings. We now understand to what extent The Ghosts in Our Machine is helping to change the world for animals. I can now move on to my next film with a profound sense of closure. It was an honor to work with the Humane Research Council and to be funded by the Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund.”

The report offers some great insights about the impact and engagement of documentary campaigns. With the success of this film—as well as such recent documentaries as Blackfish, Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, The Cove, and Maximum Tolerated Dose—it’s clear this medium is a tremendous tool for animal advocacy.

You can read the full report here.

 

 

You might not know her name, but you probably know her work: vivid, haunting photographs that capture the exploitation of animals for food, fashion, experimentation, entertainment, WeAnimalsand more. Actually, the odds that you don’t know Jo-Anne McArthur’s name have gotten a lot less likely recently, with last year’s release of the documentary The Ghost in Our Machine (directed by Liz Marshall), in which she figures as the human subject, and the publication this year of the award-winning We Animals (Lantern Books), a collection of Jo-Anne’s photographs and the stories behind them.

A decade ago, Jo-Anne interned at Farm Sanctuary, so it’s no surprise she has a soft spot for the rescued animals there. Indeed, Jo’s lens is often also focused on animals who are no longer oppressed, though she’s documented animal abuse in more than 40 countries, frequently undercover. (And as I’ve mentioned here before, one of her photos is featured on the cover of Bleating Hearts.)

I asked the Toronto resident to offer some insights into her work and advice for other activists.

What inspired you to use your lens to help animals?

I’ve always been inspired by the change that photojournalists can help create. Their lenses are a door pried open into worlds, situations and conflicts that we wouldn’t otherwise see. Advice from my friend Larry Towell, a world-renowned photographer, helped put me on the right track. He told me to focus my work on what I knew best, and what I loved. And what I love is helping animals. I started the We Animals project over a decade ago and it has since become a large archive of animal rights issues and cruelty issues from around the globe. Stepping back, though, and looking at what we can all do to help animals – is to find what you love doing, what you’re good at doing, and employ those skills to make the world a better place for animals. There are so many ways that we can all help animals. Do it in the way that you know how to do it best. You can fundraise, write, campaign, make art, hold and host events, support other organizations, volunteer, speak out, leaflet, teach, cook, etc. If you’re doing what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at, your activism will last longer and be more effective.

Why do you believe photos are such a powerful activist tool?

Jo-Anne’s work includes photographing vigils led by Toronto Pig Save, which bears witness to the suffering of pigs en route to slaughter.

Jo-Anne’s work includes photographing vigils led by Toronto Pig Save, which bears witness to the suffering of pigs en route to slaughter. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Photos are windows into what’s hidden, and when it comes to animals industries, from fur farming to “food animal” farming to bear bile farming, all of these things happen behind closed doors. Those who run these industries know that people may not want to support the cruelty that goes on there, if they knew, so it’s important to have good documentation of what these facilities are like, so that consumers can learn, and make more compassionate decisions. As we all know, images can instantly draw attention to an issue in a way that text can’t. They can make people feel instantly, be it empathy or revulsion or anger or happiness. Images are a key part of the animal rights movement.

What software, sites, etc., do you recommend activists use to share their work?

There are many sites and routes for publishing images. It’s easier than ever now, of course, because of social media. But to keep people’s attention, keep them coming back to your work, the work must be constant or at least consistent. Creating an audience will get people sharing your work on a regular basis as well. Tight, ruthless editing is key, and getting editing help (by editors or photographers whom you respect, for example) is important in your learning process as well.

It’s also helpful to reach beyond the choir. Your friends and animal-loving folk are going to like your work, but reach farther, so that people who need to know about animal issues can see the work. Send your images to local publications on a regular basis, offer to do a column or supply images regularly, so that you can broaden your reach and your audience.

What advice do you have for activists who are just starting off with photography and want to use it to advocate for animals?

Documenting the work of Sea Shepherd. Photo by Fiona McCuaig

Documenting the work of Sea Shepherd. Photo by Fiona McCuaig

Just start now. As Goethe famously wrote, “Begin it now.” You don’t need to be a traveler, and you don’t need to own expensive photo gear. Start close to home. Unfortunately, animal cruelty is all around us. It’s at the local meat markets. It’s at the pet stores, where exotic animals and dogs from puppy mills are sold for profit. It’s at the local zoo, or circus, or rodeo, or fishing hole. There is much to document. Just go out and document it, and share those images via social media, local media and wherever you can. Get creative about getting your photos out there. It’s important to take really great photos, too. People turn away from cruelty; no one wants to see it, so it’s important that the images are engaging, which will draw people in, make them wonder, make them ask questions. Don’t just take photos, but, tell a story. If you are a traveler, a great way to document animal issues is to volunteer for organizations who are helping animals. Be it at an oil spill, where groups are helping save lives, or at sanctuaries that are constantly bringing animals into their care. You can document their work, and so not only do they benefit from your donated photography, but it helps promote their work, and expose the issues at hand. I’ve done this for many groups, from Farm Sanctuary to Sea Shepherd, for groups helping birds at the Gulf oil spill to groups helping end the bushmeat trade across Africa. Whatever you want to or can photograph, begin it now. The animals need you.

You see a lot of terribly distressing things in your work for animals. What do you do to keep from burning out?

Mama cow with newborn calf at dairy farm. Soon they will be separated so humans can steal mama's milk. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Mama cow with newborn calf at dairy farm. Soon they will be separated so humans can steal mama’s milk. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

This is what so many activists struggle with. My best advice is to nurture your joy. I know that it can be hard to do that when there are billions of animals suffering at every moment. How can we be happy when this is going on? The animal rights movement has seen too many people jump in and then burn out only a few years later, because the issues are so distressing, and people aren’t taking care of themselves. Yes, there is a global emergency for animals. All the more reason to pace yourself so that you can help animals for as long as you possibly can. Whatever you need to do to look after yourself, don’t neglect doing that. Whether you need community or silence, being active of being meditative, or all of the above, look after yourself so that you have the energy to continue the fight.

It’s hard to do this. I know this! I’ve almost burned out a few times, and have needed therapy, and tools, to help myself not focus exclusively on the suffering of animals, and stay focused on creating change. A really great book that has helped me deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the onset of depression in the face of so much cruelty has been Aftershock by pattrice jones. It’s a great and useful read for activists of all kinds, who struggle with finding balance, self-care, and living in a world where most people don’t understand your point of view. Please go out and get yourself that book!

You can follow Jo-Anne on Twitter @WeAnimals. Visit her website at WeAnimals.org.

“I feel like I’m a war photographer,” says Jo-Anne McArthur early in The Ghosts in Our Machine, a powerful documentary that follows her for a year as she uses her lens to bear ghosts_in_our_machine_xlg-700x1024witness to the exploitation of nonhuman individuals for food, fashion, and research. Happily, TGIOM juxtaposes this war on animals with the lives of many who have been rescued—ambassadors for the “ghosts” who go unseen in slaughterhouses, fur farms, and research labs.  After premiering in Toronto last spring and being screened throughout Canada, the film makes its U.S. theatrical debut in November in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and other cities.

Director Liz Marshall frames TGIOM around Jo-Anne’s journey as she captures devastating still images of cruelty, heals the emotional wounds she experiences from her work by visiting Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, and develops the soon-to-be-published book of her photographs, We Animals. Along the way we meet a couple who adopts two beagles saved from research labs, and learn about some of Farm Sanctuary’s residents from the shelter’s director, Susie Coston, who introduces us to cows Fanny and Sonny, a bandaged turkey named Boydstun, and a family of adorable pigs, all of whom will live out their natural lives in peace.

What makes the film especially compelling, I think, is that it covers so many issues related to animal exploitation and does so without hitting viewers over the head, often letting the animals speak for themselves. It is mercifully light on graphic images (though they’re not entirely absent), instead focusing on Jo-Anne’s use of photographs as activism. It’s remarkable how much impact her photos can have, especially when you see the context in which they were shot.

In one undercover segment at a fur ranch, Jo-Anne teams up with a European investigator, identified only as “Marcus,” who speaks of the power behind images. “When I worked [covertly] in an animal testing laboratory,” he says, “this laboratory was not afraid of property damage because this is paid for by insurance or they can pay it from pocket money. But they were afraid of somebody infiltrating them and taking photos or video.”

Jo-Anne McArthur at work in "The Ghosts in Our Machine"

Jo-Anne McArthur at work in “The Ghosts in Our Machine”

TGIOM also highlights some of Jo-Anne’s other activism, including humane education and demonstrating with her local group Toronto Pig Save, and we hear from many of the leading voices in the animal rights movement today, including anti-captivity advocate Lori Marino; Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society; and Bruce Friedrich, senior director of strategic initiatives for Farm Sanctuary.

As well as being an inspiring film, The Ghosts in Our Machine is augmented by terrific music (original score by Bob Wiseman), imaginative editing (by Roland Schlimme and Roderick Deogrades), and beautiful cinematography (it was shot by Nick de Pencier, John Price, Iris Ng, and Liz herself). I hope you will take time to watch it and share it with family and friends.

Personal note: I am so proud that the cover of my new book, Bleating Hearts, features a photograph by Jo-Anne McArthur.

There’s been buzz within the animal rights community for some time regarding a work in progress called The Ghosts in Our Machine by Canadian filmmaker Liz Marshall. This will be a feature-length documentary, but it will also be an online immersive narrative experience, says Liz, a director who combines cinematic storytelling with social and environmental justice issues. (Her previous film, Water on the Table, documented the quest to have water declared a human right.) The Ghosts in Our Machine not only explores the hidden world of factory farming, but it introduces viewers to individual animals, focusing on their sentience, their beauty, and their pain. These animals are the ghosts in our machine. Liz is going full blast and is about halfway through with the project, but she took some time to give us a glimpse into Ghosts.

Your work has explored a number of social justice issues, from sweatshop labor in Mexico and Bangladesh and global water rights to corporate malfeasance and the rights of girls in developing countries. What brought animal exploitation to your attention?

Two people and one animal: My life partner Lorena Elke, a longtime vegan and a highly principled activist. Her outlook has impacted me, and she has made me rethink our relationship to animals. Jo-Anne McArthur’s photographs of animals pose the moral questions I think most people grapple with. Her images have inspired the approach I am taking with the film. My late dog Troy Celina Marshall (RIP: 1994-2011) was a deep friend who taught me many essential truths. She lives on in my heart.

I have always been sensitive to injustice and the suffering around us, which is why I became vegetarian in 1988 and vegan during the making of The Ghosts in Our Machine, and which is why I am drawn to exploring social issues as a filmmaker. I have primarily focused on human rights and more recently on the environment. The animal rights’ ethos is still relatively new to me. It’s a journey of discovery into what is a complex social issue — one that needs to be considered morally significant.

It’s great to hear that Jo-Anne McArthur has a central role in Ghosts. Why did you choose to tell this story through her lens?

I started with Jo’s photographs as an entry point and visual compass to anchor the film. As I zoomed out, I saw the person and realized that she would make a compelling human entry point to help tell a complicated story. As a filmmaker, I am drawn to character-driven narratives, and several individual animals are central in the film, but I also wanted a strong empathic human at the center, and that’s Jo.  She is full of hope, empathy, courage, and she is a free spirit with a good sense of humor, too. She is also a woman on the precipice of breaking out into the mainstream as an important activist-photographer, and the film captures this arc as a symbolic backdrop.

Liz Marshall with Farm Sanctuary resident Fanny, a former “dairy” cow who was rescued before she could be sent to slaughter.

In working on this film, have you encountered any animals who had a special impact on you?

Yes. In the summer of 2011 we were in development and we travelled to upstate New York to film the first story of the film: the rescue of Fanny and Sonny by Farm Sanctuary. Fanny and Sonny were “downed” factory farmed food animals destined to be sold to a rendering plant, but they now live happily at Farm Sanctuary and continue to be featured in the film. Fanny was a “spent dairy” cow and Sonny a one-day-old dying “veal” calf. Through this story, my eyes were opened to the realities of the dairy industry, and I became vegan. Cutting out dairy continues to make sense to me, and now that I have a distance from it, I can see just how collectively ignorant society is about the dairy industry. There is a myth that cows naturally produce milk for humans. I look forward to the extensive discussions and “a-ha” moments that are sparked for people.

You’ve described The Ghosts in Our Machine as a cross-platform documentary. What platforms will it incorporate?

The Ghosts in Our Machine project offers many interactive possibilities and a community building environment that is attracting a broad spectrum of animal lovers.

On June 5th we are excited to unveil a new magazine themed website: www.theghostsinourmachine.com. Join our Facebook page — it is an active and diverse space for sharing and for dialogue. Although we are just halfway through production, we have over 2000 fans from around the world.

Here are some selected examples of our online presence:

The Ghost Free Journey (GFJ) is a bimonthly online interactive blog that to date has taken place exclusively on our Facebook wall. It has been an educational, supportive and community building initiative, and now we are pleased to announce that in July of 2012 we will officially kick off the GFJ on our website, to give it more prominence and to give it a home!

A flash-based immersive story will be prominently featured on our website in 2013 created by the Webby award-winning interactive art directors The Goggles. It will provide a full-screen interactive experience that follows me and Jo-Anne McArthur on a journey of discovery through the questions and issues of animal rights. What excites me the most is that it will be a powerful vehicle to inspire our audience to go further with the subject matter.

People can also check out our Ghost Stories and Trailers on our Vimeo channel.

What do you hope to achieve with The Ghosts in Our Machine?

A lasting awareness that as individual consumers we can make a difference for the Ghosts, each and every day.

When will people get to see it?

The feature-length documentary and the online immersive story will premiere together in early 2013. A double whammy!

How can people get involved in the discussion?

Join our Facebook page. Comment on our blogs, pose questions, share information, and your experience on our website. Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GhostsMovie

Please tell your friends about us.

UPDATE: I saw this film on September 28, 2013, and found it to be incredibly beautiful and powerful.


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