In my almost 9 years as a Vegan, I have read many books and watched many movies and documentaries which had something to do with Veganism, being on a plant-based diet or just animal rights in general.
Some movies present you with tons of health facts on the benefits of eating a plant based diet. Others, like the wonderful The Peaceable Kingdom take you through the transformational journey of humans making the connection with other animals and do it extraordinary well.
The Ghosts in Our Machine is a documentary which takes you inside the mind of other animals and let you see through their eyes what they experience. Ghosts follows the animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur whose work is recognized as beautiful, transformational and eye opening. The director of the movie, Liz Marshall, has directed the movie Water On the Table before which put the question of water as a human right and is therefore no stranger to difficult and controversial subjects.
What is truly remarkable about The Ghosts in Our Machine however is how Liz’s camera was able to become Jo-Anne’s eyes and see through her animals for who they really are and therefore document their conditions, sometimes horrific, sometimes happy, with a fresh look.
One poignant moment of the movie is when the camera follows Jo-Anne into fur farms and Jo-Anne frantically photographs the animals in the cages and then states that she can’t rescue them because they will just be replaced by others. Her job is to document and show the reality. But you can tell by the sadness in her reaction that she wished she could.
Another beautiful moment is her discussion with the editor of a big newspaper in which she explains to him that she is vegan and the horrors of the dairy industry and with shyness says « I want to save the world ». That is what I would call pure Jo-Anne, modesty and passion, all in one person.
I had the pleasure to meet Jo-Anne McArthur twice. First at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles with the « ambassador » of the movie, Captain Paul Watson for whom Jo-Anne had done photography (for Sea Shepherd) and then at the National Museum of Animals and Society in Los Angeles who gave her an exhibit (thank you Carolyn Mullin!) in which she surprised me by actually remembering me. (You mean me? the little Frenchie?). She was a total joy, simple, modest and a real human being. These are rare people in our world today.
Coming back to the movie, anyone not involved in the animal rights movement will not be able to come out of it without a new vision of who animals are: sentient, beautiful, intelligent, emotional, unique. The beauty of the images, whether I talk about Liz Marshall’s movie photography or Jo-Anne’s own photography, is what really makes this movie so powerful. Nothing is more blunt and true than the reality that is depicted.
For those who are afraid of seeing only tough things about animals, there are obviously a few difficult moments to watch. This is however also compensated by beautiful and moving moments in which we see Jo-Anne at Farm Sanctuary enjoying the company of rescued animals and this simplicity of that moment is what makes us realize how beautiful each individual animal is. They cease to be numbers, they become persons.
I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about Veganism, animal rights, health and so on in the last few years, but this is definitely one of the best.
The best thing I’ve learned from Jo-Anne is not to be afraid of documenting what I see. After she told me « it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe you’re good », I picked up my camera again and, yes, for good.
Note: Liz Marshall became vegan as a result of making this movie.
– Top: with Jo-Anne at the National Museum of Animals and Society for « We Animals » exhibit.
– Below: With Captain Paul Watson at Sage in Culver City after the premiere.
– Publicity banner of the movie.
– Jo-Anne, in the movie, worked on a remarkable book which is a must have. It’s called We Animals.
– Pictures of the Los Angeles premiere of the movie on Facebook.
– Pictures from the « We Animals » exhibit at the National Museum of Animals and Society.
– Jo-Anne’s personal website.
– Captain Paul Watson about Jo-Anne McArthur.
Trailer for the movie
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