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   effective inspirational film
Sunday, February 29 2004
Gretchen had been down in the City for the past couple of days, and when she returned she brought Ray and Nancy's dog Suzy, who will spend a week with us until Ray and Nancy come up next weekend and fetch her. Suzy is rather different from Eleanor and Sally. Instead of constantly lobbying for walks and drives, her big thing is to stand in the yard and bark with that bone-chilling Hound of the Baskervilles bark of hers.
This evening I went along with Gretchen to an evening meeting with other volunteers at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. The meeting was held at the doublewide trailer that serves as the home for the CAS director, Kathy. It was to feature potluck dinner, and I'd fried up a pan of tempeh and pasta as our vegan contribution.
But before eating, the first order of business was to watch an inspirational movie called The Witness [transcript]. I've been to events like this in the past and have seen plenty of inspirational films, so I expected The Witness to be mushy animal rights propaganda with mediocre production values. But the production values were pretty good and the story was fascinating, disturbing, and moving in a way that most inspirational films never quite are. The film is built around the story of Eddie Lama, a tough blue collar kid from Brooklyn who experienced a miraculous transformation while taking care of a kitten for a woman he was trying to woo. Having been afraid of or unconcerned about animals all his life, Eddie quickly realized that animals are more than just automatons. They have personalities, desires, hopes, disappointments, and regrets, all powerful emotions that humans can relate to. The kitten unlocked an innate empathy in Eddie, and he gradually changed his life accordingly. First he quit smoking (so as not harm his furry new residents) and then, on realizing the similarity between a cat's leg and that of a chicken, he became a vegetarian. Later he began putting huge anti-fur banners on the sides of his company's trucks.
The first half of the film chronicled Eddie's transformation, while the second half consisted mostly of surreptitiously-filmed footage inside slaughterhouses and fur "ranches," frequently inter-cut with Eddie discussing the horror that is industrial animal processing. At the end of the movie, Eddie has prepared a special van with video monitors on both sides so he can show people on the streets of New York the terrible truth about fur. This half of the film was so disturbing that Gretchen actually had to get up and leave. I couldn't watch it either, but I made do by averting my eyes whenever the screen flicked to the monochromatic harshness of the hidden camera. For people who feel the way we do about animals, this was at least as bad as watching graphic video of humans being tortured and killed.
I didn't have much of an appetite left after seeing that movie, but luckily there was enough of a bureaucratic delay between watching the film and deciding what to do next that my appetite recovered. It also helped that the food was entirely vegetarian (if not vegan). Pot-luck food can often be a minefield, but there were a few reasonably good dishes in there.
The volunteers broke into three sub-groups, which sat and ate together. I was with Gretchen in the publicity group, mostly just because my involvement with CAS is as nothing more or less than as a competent and responsive webmaster. It's interesting that whenever you're in a small group like this and everyone has a chance to speak, there's always at least one person to fall into each of several categories:

  • The responsible person-in-charge. (Gretchen)
  • The class clown. (Me)
  • The saintly activist-purist.
  • The person who is going through a life-change and can't really help at all.
  • The sincere and forthright newcomer.
  • The annoying person.

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