Thursday, August 22, 2013

BLACKFISH: A FILM THAT CUTS DEEP

KIDNAPPINGS. VIOLENCE. DECEPTION. COVER-UPS. The plot of an action-packed Hollywood thriller? Not quite. It’s just business as usual at SeaWorld, the world’s most prominent (and profitable) animal theme park, where 45 orcas-or “killer whales”- currently live in captivity at its various locations. The billion dollar industry started seeing cracks in its carefully-crafted facade of “good wholesome family fun” in February of 2010, when one of SeaWorld’s top trainers Dawn Brancheau was suddenly, and with seemingly no explanation, killed by the one of the park’s orcas — Tilikum. Why would an animal who shows no aggression towards humans in the wild lash out with so much violence at a human while in captivity? And why would SeaWorld place the blame on an experienced trainer? Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite sought to find the answer, and the result of her quest is the powerful documentary Blackfish. The gut-socking film investigates the notorious incident, and ultimately becomes much more— a statement on animal consciousness, providing irrefutable visual and audible evidence that orcas are highly emotional beings. They show acute anguish and distress when taken by force from the wild and separated from their families, as Tilikum was when he was a 2-year-old calf. They yearn for expansive space. They fail to function normally in confined spaces. They suffer. They go mad. And this has consequences. “I hope “animals for entertainment” becomes a relic, a circus, something from another century that we evolved out of,” Gabriela told us when we spoke to her about Blackfish recently. Here, the director shares more of her thoughts on her film, and on animals.

The vegan community has really embraced Blackfish, many reacting with statements like, “this is why I’m vegan.” How does that make you feel?
It’s an honor. I understand, better than I ever have, what it means to share this planet. I think [journalist] Nicholas Kristof said it best, “we haven’t agreed on where the line should be drawn, but we all agree there is a line.” I think that’s progress.

The tagline of the film is “Never capture what you can’t control.” What are your thoughts on other animals in captivity who might be described as easier to control than Orcas?
I think the film makes a case against animals for entertainment, but I do believe it calls into question so much more. I hope the film encourages us to revisit the “cringe factor” we all experience when we see an animals being used as commodities. We’ve all felt this cringe-factor at some level and I think it’s a great instinct because it comes from empathy. But over time it can be drummed out of us if we let it.

Institutions that profit off of animals used for entertainment notoriously engage in corruption. But were you especially shocked at the level of deception going on at SeaWorld? What was the biggest revelation for you?
I couldn’t possibly name just one. Learning about [orcas] shortened life-spans in captivity was a revelation. Learning about the number of aggressive incidents between killer whales and trainers was shocking, but learning about the aggression between killer whales and the constant social strife was jaw-dropping for me. I guess I always wanted to think that at the very least, these animals bond with each other. And that’s just not the case.

You accomplished a remarkable thing in giving the viewer an experience where they imagined themselves in the orcas’ place, which is one of the reasons people react so strongly to the film. Was there anything in particular you employed in terms of sound, editing, cinematography to achieve this “first person feel?”
I was hoping to “show, not tell” the audience a story. I was hoping that if I pulled back the curtain and allowed the audience to hear the fact-driven story, they would have authentic reactions that they discovered on their own, not because the film was telling them how to feel or what to do.

But the facts about killer whales are so relatable. They have strong family bonds, they seem to experience grief, they are highly intelligent – these are things that remind us of ourselves and allow us to understand and empathize in a powerful way.

Can you talk a bit about the journey of this film—the challenges and triumphs of bringing a film that deals with the controversial topic of the human/animal relationship to the big screen and a wide release?
Blood, sweat and tears! It took us 2 years to complete the film. We went from looking for funding, to gathering willing interviewees, to hearing about whale trauma, human trauma, and of course knowing we better get everything right because the big guns might come after us..it was very stressful. The first triumph was finishing the film. The second, and most memorable, was getting accepted into Sundance. The third was just mind-boggling: getting bought by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films. I cried from happiness, from exhaustion, and from the realization that people might see this film, and that we had a shot at helping tighten something up that has come unraveled in the world.

Since making this film, do you feel a deeper bond with the orcas?
I feel awe inspired, I’m fascinated, but what I feel the most is respect. What I learned about what these animals are capable of defies imagination. There’s no way we can ever give them what they need to thrive or survive in captivity.

 

Postscript: Since the film’s release, SeaWorld has been reporting a drop in attendance. And Pixar Studios reportedly made significant changes to the script for “Finding Dory,” its sequel to “Finding Nemo,” after viewing “Blackfish.”

Blackfish is in theaters nationally. For information on current and upcoming screenings, visit the film’s site.

Intro and interview by Julie Gueraseva. Photograph courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES

A KEY FACTOR IN A SUCCESSFUL PHOTO SHOOT IS FUN. We had an absolute blast shooting “Super Natural,” the beauty feature in our brand new issue. And how does this fun happen? Well…you start with some sincere passion, then add to that a group of creative individuals, an idea everyone can get behind, some rockin’ tunes… and blend, blend, blend! Oh, and of course, lots of hard work is involved. But when you’re having fun, hard work becomes second nature. Speaking of nature, she was our muse in the making of the beauty feature! Get glimpse of the behind-the-scenes action in our exclusive video: 

Having the talented Melisser Elliott on board again, who did makeup and hair on two features in our Premier Issue, was a no-brainer. Of course, as always, she used all vegan and cruelty-free makeup and hair products, and shared indispensible beauty tips. Our amazing photographer Ashley Macknica provided the city/nature concept for the shoot and the perfect location for it in the form of her East Village home in NYC. Our vegan model Maggie Geha had just the right look, and was a total pro in not only taking direction, but adding her own personality to the shoot (she’s also an actress!) We took things a step further this time and also included fashion stylist! Liz Polden pulled an amazing selection of vegan and ethically-produced garments, which really made all of the beauty looks come alive. Our amazing nail artist Miss Pop dazzled up the digits with her second-to-none artistry and cruelty-free lacquers. We even had a prop stylist—Jules Manoogian finessed the details of our portrait and product shots. All of this amounted to a dream project for me to art direct! So, there you have it—a shoot so fun, you’d want to do it over and over!

IN OUR EQUALLY-FUN FASHION FEATURE “SUMMER FLING,” WE PAIRED cutting-edge style with a vintage hair look. To achieve this, we recruited makeup and hair maestro Bettina May, who also just so happens to be an outspoken vegan burlesque star! Bettina created a lovely modern take on the classic pin-up hair do. “The best way to create soft glamorous curls is with an old-fashioned roller set,” she explains. Here, she gives us simple instructions on how you can re-create this look at home:

[1] To start, comb the hair into the part you want for the style. Then, using the end of a rattail comb, section hair into equal parts, and spritz the setting spray from root to tip (about 3 sprays will do it for medium length hair) holding the bottle 8-10 inches from hair.

[2] Next, rolling away from the part, wrap the hair around your curler, always rolling under, and make sure your ends are wrapped in neatly. For best results, use smaller rollers around the face, and larger curlers on the top of the head.

[3] Leave hot rollers in for at least 30 minutes (just enough time to do your makeup!), and then unroll the curlers and brush fabulous curls out with your fingers or a nylon bristle hair brush (I love the classic Mason Pearson brushes). And voilà— a sexy throwback, perfect for summer.

See the final result on our vegan model Emily Wilson, along with gorgeous vegan fashion and accessories, in our BRAND NEW ISSUE!

Beauty Feature video filmed and edited by Robert Poswall.

Emily Wilson photographed by Balarama Heller.

Written by Julie Gueraseva. Hair how-to written by Bettina May.

Friday, July 19, 2013

TRAVEL GUIDE: VEGAN IN BERLIN

REFERRED TO AS “VEGAN PARADISE” IN A RECENT GUIDED TOUR, Berlin is the undisputed heart of Germany’s nearly one million-strong vegan population. Reasons to love Berlin are countless. A diverse range of fabulous vegan food abounds in the capital: innovative restaurants, cafés and snack bars that cater to every taste, from fast food to haute vegetable cuisine. There are a multitude of places to shop for vegan food: not only are there small vegan grocery stores, but also two vegan supermarkets. There is a thriving vegan fashion scene; tons of options to get beautified, vegan-style; and of course, an active animal rights community. Here are some of my absolute faves and hidden gems:

FASHION
Berlin has something known as “the vegan avenue” in the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg!

[1] The best place for compassionate and chic fashion shopping is Dear Goods. You will find clothing for girls and boys as well as a small selection of jewelry, bags, wallets, and home accessories. But the store is not only animal friendly; eco- and human-friendliness is also crucial for the owner Nicole Noli. Dear Goods is located in Schivelbeiner Straße 35, 10439 Berlin

[2] To complete your vegan outfit, go next door to Avesu. There, you’ll find elegant and chic footwear from Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather, sneakers from Veja or Ethletics, non-leather Doc Martens, and hiking boots from Vegetarian Shoes. They carry tons of styles for women, men, and children. Avesu is located in Schivelbeiner Straße 35, 10439 Berlin

The vegan and eco conscious brand Jonny’s Vegan (pictured) launched recently. The first collection soon became a favorite of veganistas and shoe lovers alike. Manufactured with fair labour in Spain. (Available at Avesu.)

[3] Founded by twin sisters Anja and Sandra Umann, Umasan is the world’s first vegan high fashion brand based in Berlin. They only use the finest eco-innovative materials such as Seacell, Soyfiber, Bamboo, Protein Fiber, Energear, Smartcel and Tencel. As for the designs: timeless, avant-garde and incredibly chic and comfortable. The Umasan flagship store is located in Linienstrasse 40, 10119 Berlin

[4] Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather. This innovative vegan brand has built a cult following not only in Germany, but has crossed over internationally. Large selection available at Avesu.

BONUS! Also part of “vegan avenue” is the vegan supermarket Veganz. It’s right next to Avesu and Dear Goods. Your can find everything there, from fruits and veggies, to raw foods, a huge freezer filled with vegan ice cream, pizza, every vegan meat imaginable, as well as a great selection of cheese, plant-based milk drinks, candy bars, cookies, and chocolate. Basically everything that makes you feel as if you’re in vegan food heaven. The bistro Goodies is located in the entrance area of Veganz, serving bagels, salads as well as smoothies, coffee and raw cake. Veganz is located in Schivelbeiner Str. 34, 10439 Berlin. Recently a second location opened in Friedrichshain in Warschauer Strasse 33, 10243 Berlin.

DINING

[1] My favorite place for a lazy afternoon with coffee and cake: The prettiest location in town is Café Vux, where the yummiest bagels, the most delicious cakes and the best coffee are served. Located in the popular district Neukoelln and right across the street from the vegetarian & vegan Italian restaurant Ponte Verde for a seamless transition from late afternoon coffee to the dinner table. Sunday is brunch day at Café Vux. Café Vux is located in Wipperstrasse 14, 12055 Berlin

[2] The best vegan food in Berlin: The vegetarian restaurant Cookies Cream is a hidden gem in Berlin-Mitte. Once you have made your reservation (please note that you wish to eat vegan) and made your way through the delivery yard at the back of the Westin Grand hotel, you will enjoy a delicious three-course meal made from fresh regional and seasonal ingredients in a stylish but yet inviting location. Cookies Cream is located in Behrenstrasse 55, 10115 Berlin

[3] The absolutely divine Vanilla Chocolate Cupcake at Café Vux.

[4] A very particular Berlin speciality: Vöner serves the typical Berlin dish – a döner, a doner kebab – vegan style. Located in Friedrichshain, one of the districts where the vegan scene is really happening, Vöner has become an institution for greasy, savory and delicious fast food. Insider tip: order the “Wagenburger” and french fries with vegan cheese sauce. You’ll be saying, “Mega lecker!” (it means “extremely delicious” in German). Vöner is located in Boxhagener Straße 56, 10245 Berlin

 

VEGAN BEAUTY
These brands are not to be missed:

Over 30 years ago, Ingrid Stamm founded i+m Naturkosmetik: the Berlin-based natural cosmetics brand. At that time, she was a pioneer – and she still is. The brand is certified organic, 100% vegan, uses only cold pressed oils, no artificial ingredients or mineral oils, no preservatives, like parabens, does not test on animals, and supports fair trade projects. The product range includes skin, hair, and body care. The packaging is also environmentally friendly, following the cradle to cradle design. Reflecting the spirit of i+m’s hometown, the Berlin-line was created, which also comes in a very nice travelling package with shower gel, body cream, hair shampoo, and conditioner. This makes a great, eco friendly, and vegan souvenir for all loved ones at home, or a way to remember this trip when back home. The products are available at whole food stores, such as Bio Company, LPG Biomarkt, Basic, Alnatura or Bio Company.

Luckily, great cruelty free and vegan beauty products can be found all over town. Here are a few brands and where they can be found:

Drugstores: Terra Naturi (Mueller), Alverde (DM) and Alterra (Rossmann) – organic skin and haircare, vegan products are clearly labeled

Supermarkets: bulldog (Rewe) – organic and vegan skin care for men

Health food stores and organic supermarkets: benecos skin and hair care as well as make up (tip: great nail polish) is an organic brand with a great vegan selection.

One of the first German organic skin care brands was Dr. Hauschka, with many vegan products to choose from. (Tip: the Cleansing Milk is a staple in my bathroom.)

ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISM IN BERLIN
When it comes to meeting like-minded people and fellow animal rights activists, Berlin Vegan is the place to go. Twice a month this group of regulars meets in a vegan location to share news, tips and plan upcoming activities. New faces are more than welcome, and help for their various projects such as a website, a restaurant guide app, and an annual summer festival is always highly appreciated. This year the summer festival will take place August 31st, 2013 at Alexanderplatz. Yummy food, great people, informative speeches and cookery shows – be there, or be square.

 

About the author: Franziska Schmid is a vegan writer and blogger living in Berlin. When she became a vegan in 2008, she wanted to continue to visit nice restaurants and cafés, enjoy good food, cosmetics, and use red lipstick and wear cool shoes. She started her site Veggie Love to share her finds and inspire others.

LAIKA Magazine is available at Berlin’s do you read me?! bookstore! They currently stock the Premier Issue, with our Second Issue coming there soon!