The Ghosts In Our Machine tackles the impossible issue of animal rights


June 14, 2013

Chevannes-ChandaLOGOTORONTO, ON, Jun 14, 2013/ Troy Media/ – Toronto-based documentary filmmaker Liz Marshall is no stranger to tough issues. She has made award-winning documentaries on a wide range of human rights and environmental issues, including the movement to have water declared a basic human right, the effect of HIV/AIDS on communities in sub-Saharan Africa, and the use of sweatshop labour in the international clothing industry.

The Ghosts In Our Machine is Marshall’s newest film. Currently making its way through the film festival circuit and already booked into theatres in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, this feature documentary tackles her most difficult issue to date: animal rights. And it does so with great compassion, not only for the animals featured on the screen, but also for the humans in the audience. While many animal-rights projects bombard viewers with horrific imagery and aim to shock us into swearing off animal products entirely, Marshall knows that these efforts often create a defensive and unreceptive audience.

The Ghosts In Our Machine is an attempt to do something different: to open our hearts without closing our minds. It is neither strident nor traumatizing. It follows Canadian photographer and animal rights activist Jo-Anne McArthur as she travels through Europe, the U.S., and Canada, documenting the exploitation of animals by the food, fashion, research, and entertainment industries. McArthur’s intimate photographs give these animals a voice, by capturing their capacity for emotion and by revealing the extent of their suffering.

When Marshall began making the film, she knew she wanted to reach beyond its natural audience. To do this, she worked hard to make a gentle and hopeful film. But she also invited the wider community to follow the making of the film in real time.

ghost2For over two years Marshall has been administering the film’s Facebook page, which now has over 7,500 enthusiastic followers. She typically posts news, observations, and queries several times per day. According to Marshall, the interaction was creatively useful as she made the film. “Through discourse and direct relationship with audience,” Marshall says, “I was actually gaining new insights all the time.” Thus the film evolved as a result of Marshall’s early efforts to connect with her audience.

The film’s Facebook page is an example of the kind of outreach work a documentary filmmaking might typically take on – though a particularly well-done example. But Marshall’s work also features many initiatives that are far more atypical, all devised to bring the film to the attention of the wider community and to deepen its impact.

To bring the film to the wider community, Marshall has artists, celebrities, scientists, and activists helping to spread the word. There are some usual suspects, of course, like Ingrid Newkirk, founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). But the animal ambassadors also include actor Jason Priestley, artist Robert Bateman, author Barbara Gowdy, and singer-songwriter Amy Sky, to name a few.

To deepen the film’s impact, Marshall has teamed up with LUSH, a cosmetics company, to offer five-day virtual coaching sessions. Every couple of months, Marshall holds a raffle in which a winner has the opportunity to work with two online coaches, learning about how animal products make their way into all areas of our lives and developing the skills and knowledge for living without these products. Last month, thirty employees of LUSH in Vancouver also participated in this initiative.

“All of that is really important for any social issue documentary,” says Marshall. “But especially – I have to say – for a subject like this . . . it’s been dubbed the ‘impossible issue.’ And so the challenge of the project is . . . How to we lift the profile and make it accessible and inviting to a broad demographic? Because people are afraid of the subject.”

Thanks to Marshall’s innovative work, you might have known about The Ghosts In Our Machine before today. But if this is the first time you have heard about the film, it certainly won’t be the last. And when you do have the opportunity to see it, you will gain a fresh perspective on a difficult issue and will find amazing opportunities for engaging more deeply. Don’t be afraid. This beautiful film won’t make you want to close your eyes – it will help you open them wider.

Title: The Ghosts In Our Machine
Director: Liz Marshall
Producer: Nina Beveridge and Liz Marshall
Production Company: Ghosts Media
Running Time: 92 minutes
See it in Toronto at Kingsway Theatre, June 14-20 and Bloor Cinema, July 2-4; in Winnipeg at Winnipeg Film Group, July 3-7 and 11-12; in Vancouver at Vancity Theatre, August 2, 3, 16, and 17.

Chanda Chevannes is a documentary filmmaker, writer, and board member of the Documentary Organization of Canada. Her latest film is Living Downstream, an award-winning documentary about the links between cancer and environment.

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