Assignment 1 – Part A: Food on Film Analysis

(Dominion 2018)

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.

References

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. 

Murray, R.L. & Heumann, J.K. 2012, ‘Contemporary eco-food films: The documentary tradition’, Studies in Documentary Film, vol 6, no. 1, pp 43-59.

The Aussie Farms Repository 2014, Videos, Aussie Farms, viewed 11 March 2019, <https://www.aussiefarms.org.au/videos>.