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Liz comforts Sonny, a one-day-old calf rescued from the dairy industry
Marla interviews the director of The Ghosts In our Machine, Liz Marshall
Early in the new documentary The Ghosts In Our Machine,
we see Jo-Anne McArthur, the photographer at the center of the film,
meeting with the agency that sells her photos in New York. She’s
meeting with them to talk about her work and encourage sales to
consumer magazine. Jo-Anne has traveled the world at this point for
years, documenting some of the horrific and yet everyday ways in which
our society inflicts cruelty upon animals, from animals in captivity in
zoos to animals in captivity on factory farms. The focus of the film,
though, and the true subjects, are the animals Jo-Anne is trying to get
the public to see, most of whom rarely see the light of day and who
suffer tremendously behind carefully locked doors. In close up shots,
we see their eyes; we see their nostrils flare; we see them cower in
the backs of their cages, clinging to each other as the gentle
photographer bears witness to their abuse.
There is so much to say
about this documentary, directed by Liz Marshall, a lacerating but
profoundly sensitive look into what so much of the world inured and
protected against seeing; I look forward to writing a review in the
coming weeks. For now, I am thankful to be able to bring you this short
interview with the director. This is a movie that could be a
game-changer for so many people, and, most important, for the animals
who suffer in these unimaginably brutal, chillingly common
circumstances. I am honored to have been able to see this powerful film
and I look forward to the public being able to, too.
Marla Rose: There
is a scene early on where Jo-Anne is visiting her photo agency in New
York and is told, quite compassionately but honestly by executives
there, that the photos are so powerful but “difficult,” and that
consumer magazines will not publish them. You can see Jo-Anne take a
little gulp and then she smiles but it seems clear to me that she’s
emotionally bracing herself from hearing something painful that she has
heard again and again. As a filmmaker filming the photographer, did you
hear similar concerns from potential financial backers? Did your
confidence in this project ever wane? If so, how did you get it back?
Liz Marshall: Part of why I felt compelled to make The Ghosts In Our Machine
is the challenge -- meaning, dominant culture is quite
resistant to the animal issue, and this piqued my interest. The film
and our online interactive story features Jo-Anne's challenge to have
her work seen by a broader audience, and this parallels the resistance
in society. The power of the documentary genre is that it can be seen
on many global platforms, the film is being embraced and rejected, so
we are also experiencing a similar challenge, but mostly we are being
reviewed by and seen in mainstream venues - The Ghosts In Our Machine
is effectively pitching Jo's work to the world.
MR: How did you have this film financed and how long did you work on it?
documentary channel is our commissioning broadcaster, Bruce Cowley is
the Commissioning Editor, he licensed the film, which opened up other
Canadian financing opportunities for the production. We are fortunate
to have been funded during such tough times. It has been a 3-year
process for me. It began with an active development process at which
time I engaged in many conversations with Jo-Anne McArthur. I then
partnered with Nina Beveridge who is a producer on the project, we
created Ghosts Media Inc, and the pitch materials. We're now in Phase
3, which is distribution. Each phase is all consuming! By the way,
we're excited to say that the Canadian broadcast premiere on
documentary is November 24th, 2013.
MR: Were you vegan when you started the film? Are you now?
I was vegetarian and became vegan during the making of the film (summer
2011 while filming the Fanny and Sonny rescue story).
was interesting to me how gracefully the film transitioned many times
from very heavy and painful subjects, such as capturing images of the
animals imprisoned on a fur farm, to more peaceful, joyful scenes where
Jo-Anne reinvigorates herself and is able to enjoy being in the
presence of animals who have made it to “the other side,” such as the
residents of Farm Sanctuary. It seems to be true to the experience of
those who are working on behalf of animals: much of it is so deeply
painful but then we get these moments of relief, with our own animals,
with volunteering with animals, with creating positive change. It
really captures an aspect of the emotional dissonance that we live
with, something that the average person probably wouldn’t relate to too
well, the great sorrow and the great joy, and, most important, how
gratifying it is to be able to do this work. How did you keep yourself
and your crew going during the darkest periods of filming?
were focussed on the work, doing it as well as possible, in a
careful very considered manner. It was a journey of discovery and
awareness for everyone involved. We captured upwards of 180 hours
of footage, the editing phase was also monumental. Ebb and flow between
the 'machine' and the heart of animal sentience was my biggest
preoccupation. The film needed to bear witness, without
compromise, but also take audiences on a journey into the physical,
visceral, emotional lives and experiences of individual animals. A
delicate epic balance.
in the film, Jo-Anne casually mentions that she has PTSD from what she
has seen over her many years of photographing the animals society uses
and abuses. Did you fear that yourself? Is there something in the
filming process - not only filming the animals in all these horrific
conditions, but filming the person who is photographing them - that
creates an emotional distance that helped you?
therapeutic to be in the editing suite, to make sense of difficult raw
material; to find its ultimate shape. Ultimately a social-issue
documentary like The Ghosts In Our Machine is an offering to the world, to try to make a difference.
thought the framing of the shots, interspersed with such gripping
photographs, was just beautifully done. The music and sound,
including the sound of animals happily snorting in hay, were also
beautiful and subtle. Are there different aesthetic considerations when
filming an artist? For example, were you more conscious of the
artfulness of your framing than you might have been otherwise?
the process began by studying Jo's photographs (www.weanimals.org). I
formed a team that would compliment and enhance the look and
sensibility. Giving the animals agency, so that they take up cinematic
space as central subjects, was the goal. Every film demands its own
voice and aesthetic considerations. The Ghosts In Our Machine employs an observational approach with naturalistic poetic intimacy. I worked with an A team to put this project together.
MR: In what ways did your perceptions of animals shift during the filming of Ghosts in Our Machine?
blinders came off. I became hyper aware of the ghosts at every corner,
every turn. I became acutely aware of the billions of animals hidden
from our view, and I became aware of how challenging this subject is. I
always loved animals, but I do see all animals differently now. They
are precious and fascinating, deserving of our collective care and
Check out Marla's review of The Ghosts In Our Machine.
2013, 2014, Vegan Street