The following are three different documentary structures I have considered adhering to when exploring my food issue of producing and consuming animal-based products.
In this structure I will be documenting the journey of a person with systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune condition, which affects the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs. This person has managed their lupus through a plant-based diet, rid of the inflammatory qualities that dairy and sometimes meat can cause in the human body. Through interviews, b-roll following them around, and ‘logs’ like a diary, we gain insight into the health potential of this diet. Perhaps a more immersive experience for a viewer/participant would be to develop a platform where they can select which health aspect they want to explore more in depth (e.g. the benefits of veganism on eyesight, or choose the benefits of veganism on skin and acne treatment, etc). I certainly would have engaged with a project like this when making my own cost-benefit analysis on going vegan permanently.
essay style & autobiographical:
Kip Andersen’s documentaries (Cowspiracy, 2014 or What The Health, 2017) usually involve him posing a question (such as why do American health organisations promote meat consumption despite their knowledge that it has carcinogenic properties?) and follows his own individual search for its answer (these organisations are funded by meat industry, etc.). In this option, I will structure my micro doc according to an initial question I will raise – something along the lines of, ‘why are these Australians vegan?’ or hopefully something more thought-provoking than that. Perhaps look at why our own government subsidizes meat (Hunt, 2017), or funds campaigns that advocate for dairy and red meat, while it funds ads that discourage smoking (despite the comparable health risks of both). This would follow my own journey into answering this question – the struggles and insights – with a heavy emphasis on my own involvement in the film.
Every significant change in history – civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights – has gone through the same course of action. In this option, I will structure my documentary not according to chronological sequence or a sole narrative, but according to the distinct stages that take place for major permanent change to occur. Contrasted and compared with archived images of the historical movements mentioned.
-Oppression (the oppression of animals exploited for food, fashion, entertainment, etc. and the exploitation of lower socioeconomic communities that suffer from the side effects of animal agriculture).
-Ridicule (montage of vox pops to determine the general consensus about people who are vegan; “vegan jokes”; stereotypes, etc.).
-Anger (pro meat eaters agenda and farmers whose livelihoods are threatened).
-Discomfort (most people are unable to watch the videos depicting where their food comes from).
-Beginnings of a societal norm (mini profiles of and interviews with people whose vegan lifestyle is a norm).
-Change (embrace of veganism is evident in statistics, in animal sanctuaries, in all-vegan restaurants, in major chains offering vegan options. In this stage the “solution” to problems the world currently faces is veganism, thus ends on a promising note or call to action).
Hunt, E 2017, Meatonomics author says government working with meat and dairy industry to boost consumption, [online] the Guardian, viewed 28 March 2019,<https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/may/06/meatonomics-author-says-government-working-with-meat-and-dairy-industry-to-boost-consumption>.
The documentary I’ve chosen to look at is The Cube of Truth. It focuses on an animal rights activist couple from Auckland, and their involvement in a Cube of Truth – a public presentation of graphic images of animal slaughter practices.
Maybe it’s the cool slow motion shots, or maybe it’s the Kiwi accents, but something made me genuinely enjoy this short doc the first and subsequent times I watched it. Most of all, I love the straight forward nature of its message. It’s not, ‘this is a demonstration of all the reasons why veganism is great if you’d be kind enough to listen and maybe consider what I’m putting down’. It’s, ‘we’re vegan and we’re proud of it’. I seldom see any positivity in animal welfare videos, mostly criticism, but there’s ironically so much life in this video that that’s exactly the positive vibe I get, in spite of the cruel slaughter practices we’re shown. Rhetorical and expository documentary (Murray & Heumann, 2012) laced with vitality, as opposed to emotionally flat scientific studies or philosophical questions surrounding speciesism, is the breath of fresh air I didn’t know I needed. There’s no sense of static, only action. Paired with movement shots of the couple performing tricks on their unicycles, we’re told why they were called to action, and why they maintain their sense of conscience and justice through Cube of Truth. All of these factors are things I would want to explore in my own project. It’s difficult for me at present to state what exactly that project will entail, but if it’s any bit action-packed as The Cube of Truth, I’d be content.
The pace is quick, even for a micro doc. And yet, we’re still offered slow motion shots, still shots, etc. If I could describe the feeling I get from its pace, it’s like interval training. You exercise, your heart rate is up, and then you’re brought back down, and then restart. I think this is what keeps my focus most of all. I have an unusually low attention span, and yet, they could be talking about paint drying and I’d still be engaged with it. Perhaps an entirely slow or fast paced film is not the way to go for me. It’s the variety of rhythm that’ll keep an audience captivated.
I witnessed a Cube of Truth in Melbourne a while ago, on Bourke St right in front of the busy Myer I used to work at. I was coming back from my break when I saw the collection of screens being held up. At the time I was vegan, so watching the videos in equal parts disappointed me and failed at surprising me. But I realised that I share the same perspective as the people holding up the screens, as Chris and Sam from the documentary. The interviewees in The Cube of Truth are real people. They aren’t scientists or doctors placed on a pedestal we can’t identify with. They’re the kind of people you can see yourself as, not militant nor aggressive. Not angry or emotional. Just passionate enough to encourage others to see the truth for themselves.
These past couple of weeks I’ve been struggling to determine what I want to explore in my project. The most prevalent topic for me, as it is the root of most health, environmental, and economic problems in the world, is the production and consumption of animal products. But I’m hesitant, because I don’t leave my house with the intention of making people uncomfortable, or making them angry. How do I avoid offending people who have spent their whole lives believing their lifestyles have minimal impact on the world? I want people to see is that buying a steak is no longer just buying a steak. It’s killing the cow that wanted to live, supporting the farm and transport that release toxic gasses into the atmosphere and cut down forests for expansion, negatively impacting the health of mainly coloured communities and lower socio-economic classes that can only afford to live near these farms, contributing to global warming, and unknowingly consuming food with carcinogenic, cholesterol, casein properties.
I’m really invested in this project and it’s aim but I wonder if it’s too much. Should be more wary of offending people? But isn’t that one of the assets of documentary? To evoke feeling? When I’m looking for motivation to keep promoting veganism, I don’t watch animal slaughter videos. I seek more information. I read credible studies that support (and sometimes don’t support) this cause and come to my own conclusions. I analyse graphs and learn about health, cultural and religious reasons preventing veganism. I listen to podcasts and watch videos by the most patient, and well-informed animal rights activist I’ve ever seen or heard – Ed Winters (“Earthling Ed”). If my innate strive for information and truth, is anything like those of my audience, then I have chosen the right topic to explore.
Recently Ed Winter’s TEDx Talk came out, and once again, his words were powerful enough to strike an emotional chord within me. Hypocrisies of humanity can be corrected and our actions can align with our core beliefs regarding animal exploitation, if we go vegan.
“The Ostrich Effect is a cognitive bias where when confronted with information that is upsetting, potentially offensive or makes us challenge ourselves in a way that perhaps we don’t want to be challenged, we turn away. We hide from it. We pretend that it doesn’t exist. We bury our heads in the sand, hence the name, The Ostrich Effect.”
Dominion (2018) is a feature-length documentary about animal agriculture practices in Australia. The film presents footage captured in abattoirs and intensive factory farms, shot with drones and hidden cameras. It exposes the moral and environmental costs of using animals for fashion, entertainment, food, research, and companionship.
I chose to analyse Dominion because I have never been so heavily affected by a film before. It’s easier to believe in the narrative that all farmers are loving and that all farm animals are happy, and willingly give their meat and milk and eggs for us to consume.
In this studio I aim to find information supporting a plant-based diet. This film offers it by exposing the conditions of industrial animal farming. I also hope to explore a potential link between the acceptance of animal oppression on our dinner plates, and our tolerance of violence and hostility between humans. Dominion explores the similarities of animal exploitation and racism, sexism and speciesism.
Dominion’s writer, director and producer, activist Chris Delforce, is rarely physically present in the film. He narrates several parts, and we see him working on the production. None of the other narrators are seen. Perhaps this is intended to emphasise the real importance of the subject – the animals. The true participants I would say, those who are willing and able to offer consent to their participation, are the people who work undercover to acquire footage within the farms. Though there is no clear relationship between the filmmakers and the participants in this regard, Delforce does show his compassion for the film’s subjects through his actions, after he rescues a baby goat from starvation and brings it to an animal sanctuary.
All information is offered through voiceover, text, our own observation, or interview.
Voiceovers by Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Sia, Sadie Sink, Kat Von D, and Chris Delforce, narrate most of the images we see. Their voices give some life to the statistics revealed, and bring humanity to the descriptions of animal torture. It’s grounding to be told by their solemn voices just what goes on because we can sense their frustration as well. Our discomfort is justified in their slow delivery of the narration.
Statistics given through text span across the screen. What I found engaging was that these facts and numbers did not appear bit by bit, but all at once. It forced me to find the remote, and pause the screen so I could ensure I’d read all the information in time.
However, sometimes we are just left to our own devices, exposed to the merciless treatment without narration. The producers spare us the explanations to why a featherless chicken is on the ground, gradually closing their eyes. We learn about the animals’ suffering through observation too. This captivated me most. The gravity of the situation was always magnified when there was nothing to be heard but the staggering breathing of a small, dying animal. It was quite painful, and I believe this strategy played on my love for animals most.
The final way information was conveyed was through interview, where the undercover participants secretly filmed factory farm workers and encouraged them to talk about their views. This was effective because people are always more willing to talk freely and honestly when they don’t know their answers are being recorded for the world to see. And what is most valuable while being educated about agribusiness and immoral, yet protected practices, is transparency.
Dominion is rhetorical in form, as its intention is to convince viewers to question and ultimately challenge their current held attitudes about industrial farming, and therefore encourages people to transition to more compassionate ways of living (Murray & Heumann, 2012, p. 44).
Dominion is a complete hybrid of multiple styles of documentary.
All footage independent of narration demonstrates a “reduced obtrusiveness” (Fox, 2017, pg. 40) from the filmmakers. As the camera rolls uninterrupted to document the weakened animals, we become engaged in the observational/direct cinema mode (Murray & Heumann, 2012, p. 45).
The final clips of Chris rescuing a baby goat, and of the anonymous investigators crawling under cages to film animals, are evidence of reflexive documentary. Instead of trying to conceal the process of production, the cameras in their hands and their verbal acknowledgement of the footage they just captured, are an explicit reference to their involvement in what we consider reality in this film.
The majority of Dominion is expository in nature. The soundless images of farming practices are narrated by faceless voices. These voices offer explanation to what we see and will inevitably experience. As expected, the physical identities of the narrators are masked in this form, which normally would suggest objectivity. However, the narration incorporation of emotive words suggests a disagreement with what is screened before us. When we do eventually see Chris Delforce, this further deconstructs the myth of complete objectivity and independence from human intervention in the documentary (Fox, 2017, pp. 4 & 13).
The film incorporates footage from Aussie Farms Repository (2014) which is the world’s most comprehensive library of Australian photos, footage, documents, and campaign information regarding commercialised animal abuse. Because this database is open to contribution by any Australian, the use of this footage indicates Interactivity. “Breaking one-way routes of transmission and reception…collective works [invite] individuals to become active participants” (Fox, 2017, pg. 15). Dominion is developed through the use of contributed content. It is reactive in nature, because the initial communication between author/producer and audience informs the making of the project (Aston & Gaudenzi, 2012).
Dominion premiered with multiple international screenings. If it was only available in an online setting, I would have involved another type of interactivity as well. Interactive virtual reality – a virtual representation of events or spaces – would enable Dominion filmmakers to emulate the real physical space and mood of living confined in a cage. Using a 360 degree camera to capture what it is like to be entrapped within your own faeces and to be treated as a commodity. I maintain that interaction with this kind of virtual experience encourages empathy – necessary for compassion. The representation of these horrid conditions gives the viewer more insight and understanding into the trauma farmed animals experience. YouTube is a platform that allows one to upload 360 degree videos, and encourages viewers to play with the controls of moving around the virtual space. Though I understand most of Dominion was captured with hidden cameras, and that virtual reality footage would be difficult to film without proper gear, perhaps this could be a reason to reproduce the situation for animals in an artificial space and reenact the experience – indicating a performative form of documentary which places emphasis on eliciting emotional responses (Murray & Heumann, 2012, pg. 46).
Dominion was produced as a response to claims that animal agriculture is not as bad in Australia as the rest of the world. It challenges the desire to live blissfully unaware of where staples in the Western diet come from. But ignorance does not remove complicity. Dominion gives us the knowledge to make informed food and lifestyle choices. The pursuit of knowledge will always be more important than the pleasure of an audience (Fox, 2017, pg. 13).
Chris Delforce states that it is our responsibility as consumers to end the unnecessary slaughter of animals (Dominion Movement, 2018). It is also our responsibility as privileged media makers to uncover the many truths of animal exploitation in our own country (Fox, 2017, pg. 4). I would like my own project to offer lots of information about animal farming practices in the hopes that it surprises people enough to feel angry about being manipulated by the false image of obliging animals. I also hope to use sound sparingly as Dominion filmmakers have, in moments of extreme significance. Limiting the use of sound throughout the project emphasises a feeling of isolation, inner conflict, and “alienation” (Murray & Heumann, 2012, p. 54), at times when animals begin to fear for their lives. And lastly, as much as it disturbs me to watch, gruesome footage displaying the current standards of animal farming is also useful. To evoke such a physical and emotional response as needing to close one’s eyes is powerful. To drive an audience into activism as Dominion has, is the result of an emotionally driven, complex documentary (Fox, 2017, pg. 1).
Dominion forces us to acknowledge our own hypocrisy. If we cannot watch slaughter happen, how can we support it? If we do not want any part in it, how can we pay for its continuation? In this knowledge era, what do corporations gain from keeping us in the dark? Questions about moral agency, motivations and complicity like these are what encourage the possibilities of deeper, critical discussion (Fox, 2017, pg. 23). And that’s a response I’d like to see to my own documentary.
Aston, J & Gaudenzi, S 2012 ‘Interactive documentary: setting the field’, Studies in Documentary Film, vol 6, no. 2, pp. 125-139.
Dominion Movement 2018, About The Film, Aussie Farms, viewed 10 March 2019, <https://www.dominionmovement.com/about>.
Dominion 2018, documentary film, Aussie Farms, Australia, directed by Chris Delforce.
Dominion Movement 2018, Fact Sheet & References, Aussie Farms, viewed 10 March 2019, <https://www.dominionmovement.com/facts>.
Fox, B 2017, ‘A Brief History of Documentary: Movements and Modes’ in, Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice, 2nd edn, Routledge, Milton, pp. 27-72.
Fox, B 2017, ‘Reimagining Documentary’ in, Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice, 2nd edn, Routledge, Milton, pp. 1-26.
Another food related issue I’ve recently come to consider is casual intermittent fasting. These first weeks back to university have been busy for me in regards to schooling, social and family commitments. I haven’t prioritised healthy eating habits and most of the time I’ve accidentally skipped eating for a full day or so.
It’s an issue for me because I’m aware of the physical and mental toll this takes. It’s a habit I have to force myself to break. In response to this week’s blog question, through documentary I would choose to remind others and myself that mindful eating is so important for health, and that inevitable consequences of unplanned starvation will lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.
There are various ways I could document the importance of scheduled eating times. Using a program like Eko, an interactive video platform, I can create a non-linear pathway of scenes. The movement between scenes would be determined by the viewer’s answer to:
The viewer that clicks pathway A or B becomes an active participant in the sequence of the work when option A leads to a scene of eating, or scene B leads to a scene of difficulty concentrating (to demonstrate potential negative effects of skipping meals). The first type of the Interactive mode of documentary is satisfied where the viewer is engaged in the work and becomes an active determinant in how it is presented.
If I were to incorporate the time I had headaches because I skipped eating when my body needed food to function properly, the reenactment of this entire experience for the camera would suggest a Performative mode of documentary. I would suggest that it is important to reenact this kind of experience for which there is no in-time recording. If I do not present my face/identity, the viewer may be able to picture themselves as that person going through trouble, aiding empathy and immersion that may prove helpful in getting the importance of safe diets across.
In a subsequent scene, the project invites viewers to participate by typing and submitting stories of their own negative experiences of unhealthy eating schedules – eg. impaired immune system, headaches, unsettled stomach, etc. which the following person that interacts with the project gets to learn about. The features of this scene would again suggest evidence of (the second type of) Interactivity – where visitors are able to contribute their own content to further the intentions of the documentary. Umberto Eco classified this kind of interaction between producer and audience to be an element of “open works: those works of writing and art in which, rather than intending a “closed,” singular experience, authors intentionally invite interpretation and contribution to the form, function, and meaning of a text”, (Fox, 2017, pg. 65). Here in an open work the power imbalance between producer and viewer is improved, as participation is not pressured by the physical presence of the producer (myself). The willingness to partake comes from the audience. This suggests a Participatory mode of documentary, where “…filmmakers [recruit] their subjects as active participants”, (pg. 45).
What I found interesting from this week’s reading, and what I also hadn’t really considered before, was the fact that documentary can engage in multiple existing modes and can overlap in terms of technical features, and creative and and ethical motivations. It seems that some of the best examples of documentary don’t just adhere to the features of one selection alone, but take advantage of multiple different modes of documentary production. I hope my own final film in this studio on animal welfare will also reflect this decision.
Fox, B 2017, ‘A Brief History of Documentary: Movements and Modes’ in, Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice, 2nd edn, Routledge, Milton, pp. 27-72.
My interest in this studio stems from my love of true crime and food related documentaries. The notion of crafting documentary very much intrigues me, because like Broderick Fox suggests in his work, ‘Reimagining Documentary’ (2017), we as members of the digital age, the period of unbarred access to media creation technologies and distribution platforms, “[should] never take for granted our privilege and responsibility as media producers”, (pg. 4) to create such work.
The food issue I most want to look at is the production of food through animal agriculture, and the inhumane treatment of these animals during intensive factory farming practices. A step further, I question what drives someone to adopt a vegan diet, and thus in this quest must acknowledge the heads of power that directly profit from the torture and slaughter of livestock, and from the economic pressures placed on people who rely financially on these brutal events to continue. Intertwined, lay the concepts of environmental degradation, health, cognitive dissonance, speciesism, and the core beliefs we hold about what is right and wrong. I consider the idea that activism is possible through our everyday food choices by using our purchasing power to influence actions within slaughterhouses, abattoirs, and meat/egg/dairy factories. After all, according to ‘Cowspiracy’ (Andersen & Kuhn 2014), transitioning to a fully vegan diet would save an average of “1100 gallons of water, 45 lbs of grain, 30 sq.ft forest, 10lbs of C02 and 1 animal’s life” per day. Sure, I’m probably biased about this topic because I’m vegan, but maintaining my identity in this work is important to me.
This semester I’d like to walk away with a completed film that addresses the prior concerns I mentioned. I’d like to personally challenge myself to remain open-minded to other film ideas should they be more interesting to explore. From the group of people that I will work with, I would be happy to see a strong work ethic, and the same kind of curiosity and passion that I have for making a documentary.
However, some things still plague me. As much as I intend my work to be carefully researched and presented, I would still like it to be ‘beautiful’ and ‘artistic’ in nature, through abstract representations of fact, and the manipulation of framing, colour, and vibrancy. Would it be wrong for me to focus on the aesthetic qualities of my work when perhaps, I should be thinking how to best depict the difficult circumstances of disenfranchised minorities, and the pain of a story gone untold? In my endeavour to present harsh, gruesome realities, how do I make a beautiful film? This is a concern I hope to answer by the end of my time in this studio. I’m so excited! 😀
Andersen, K, & Kuhn, K 2014, Cowspiracy: the sustainability secret, A.U.M. Films & Media, & First Spark Media. Fox, B 2017, ‘Reimagining Documentary’ in, Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice, 2nd edn, Routledge, Milton, pp. 1-26.