In the age of fake news, corporate propaganda and repression of dissent, bringing truth to the public has become a democratic obligation. Something that none of us can afford to ignore is the plight of animals exploited for human benefit. Not only is the suffering inflicted on them deeply immoral, but the human-animal binary relegates fellow humans to inferior status. (The Trump administration’s use of the word “animals” in vilifying migrant populations is just one example.) The anti-oppression work being created by conscientious people has become a beacon of hope for our society. And this is why the new documentary Dominion is so important.

The animal agriculture industry — which makes up the largest segment of agriculture in the U.S. — is one of the most violent and secretive institutions on the planet. Its trillion dollar profits are sustained by the public’s ignorance, and it goes to great lengths to maintain the status quo. In 2015, following the release of his first documentary Lucent, which exposed Australia’s pig industry, filmmaker and activist Chris Delforce (who wrote, co-produced, directed and edited Dominion) had his home raided by a police task force, leading to Australia’s first-ever ag gag case.

Chris Delforce Dominion Animal Rights Film Director

Chris Delforce, the director of “Dominion,” at the Dominion Animal Rights March in Melbourne on April 28. (Photo: Bree Gaudette.)

Undeterred, Delforce and his team of investigators continued gathering evidence of the systemic brutality endured by animals. The resulting Dominion, comprised of several hundred hours of footage obtained by drones and hidden and handheld cameras, focuses on six main areas of exploitation: food, fashion, entertainment, wildlife, pets and experimentation. In an unflinching account, the film emphasizes the ingrained agony of global practices that are legal and deemed “humane.” Accompanying the visuals are narrations from a number of well-known vegans, whose involvement was facilitated by Earthlings’ creator Shaun Monson, now co-producer of Dominion. Actors Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara joined the film earlier this year, and just announced was Kat Von D – LAIKA’s Issue Six cover star  – as well as musician Sia and Stranger Things‘ actress Sadie Sink.

What makes Dominion, which is in the midst of an international tour with screenings coming up in New York and Los Angeles, especially unique is that it’s more than a film. It’s part of a wide-reaching initiative that includes the online database Aussie Farms Repository and the coordinated activism campaign Dominion Movement. The recent Dominion Animal Rights March in Melbourne drew over 3,000 demonstrators. With Dominion, we hoped to unite activists with a common goal, moving beyond fragmentation to become a solid, unstoppable movement,” Chris Delforce tells LAIKA. Here, Delforce shares with us more candid insights on the film’s process, overcoming adversity and galvanizing others to action.


LAIKA: Was the Dominion Movement part of your vision from the beginning, or did it take shape as film production progressed? Why was it so important for you to pair the film with on the ground activism?

Chris Delforce: We knew this was a film that was going to inspire and anger people. There’s sometimes a suggestion that by targeting vegans as one of our primary audiences we’re just preaching to the converted, but we see turning vegans into activists just as important, if not more so, than turning non-vegans into vegans. We’ve always hoped that Dominion would be a powerful catalyst, a tool that activists can use in their own creative ways. The lockdown and protest at a Melbourne slaughterhouse just prior to the film’s premiere is an example. That action continues a steadily increasing trend over the last couple of years in Australia. Video outreach in the streets, protests and lockdowns at animal exploitation facilities, marches and demonstrations, all of it has been ramped up, and we hope Dominion’s release will push it all to the next level. 

dominion animal rights protest

Over 40 activists participate in a slaughterhouse shutdown in Benalla, Victoria on March 26 to coincide with the film’s Melbourne premiere. (Photo courtesy of Dominion Movement.)

L: The Dominion March must’ve been electrifying. Was there a sense of turning a corner in the movement, of imminent change on the horizon?

CD: The Dominion March was an incredible night. It truly exemplified how much this movement has grown, and I think was a clear signal of what’s to come. Prior to this, the largest animal rights march in Australia had around 800-900 in attendance. I’ve heard so much positive feedback from participants — more and more people are getting motivated to do everything they can and are realizing that they’re not alone. We hired a large tri-screen truck to play footage from the film as we marched and during the speeches, along with dozens of participants holding TV screens, tablets and laptops showing the same material. What that footage shows has been kept secret for so long, so taking over the Melbourne central business district with it was invigorating.

“Even if there was a magical method of raising and slaughtering animals that was entirely free of pain, fear and suffering, it still could never be ethical.”

L: Dominion’s mission makes it clear that “it’s not a question of better ways of doing the wrong thing,” as Rooney Mara says in her narration towards the end of the film. Do you consider yourself an abolitionist?

CD: I do. At some point it became abundantly clear to me that “welfare” reforms are nothing more than marketing slogans. Free range, ethically farmed, humanely slaughtered, sow stall free, local… These are just buzzwords designed to make consumers feel better about paying for the violent, unnecessary deaths of thinking, feeling beings who desperately wanted to live. Even if there was a magical method of raising and slaughtering animals that was entirely free of pain, fear and suffering, it still could never be ethical. Would it be ethical if they were human? Our history is plagued with atrocities committed under justification of self-declared superiority. Martin Luther King Jr’s plea for a “revolution of values” remains as relevant and urgent as ever. The fact that we can breed, confine, exploit and kill other beings is a very different thing to us having the moral right to do so.

Very few people, though, are persuaded by – or even open to hearing – philosophical arguments alone. I believe that [showing] the inherently barbaric nature of these industries is a much more efficient motivator. It helps people understand the individual suffering behind the neatly packaged products on supermarket shelves. I think there’s definitely a place for strategic campaigns that garner huge media attention, such as [banning] battery cages and live export, without advocating “lesser evil” alternatives. Because when people can connect with, and understand, that particular suffering, they’re more ready to face the question of why other types of suffering are any more excusable.

Pig Transport Slaughter Animal Rights Activist

An activist connects with a pig bound for slaughter at a vigil at Diamond Valley Pork in Australia. (Photo: Bear Witness Australia.)

L: Were you especially conscious of underscoring with Dominion that these are not instances of cruelty, but industry norms?

CD: These industries have a few basic lines that they recycle, regardless whether it makes any sense. “Isolated incidents,” “rogue operator who doesn’t represent our industry,” “one or two bad workers who have been sacked or retrained,” etc. Dominion follows Lucent’s lead in focusing on recurring, standard, legal industry practices — things that can generally be found with just a little digging into their own documentation that they publish for their farmers, and in the codes of practice that govern the kinds of horrible things they can do that would otherwise be illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Dominion even uses some of the industry’s own “educational” footage. Failing to overtly counter their typical responses would be a disservice to the animals who suffer at their hands every day, so I’ve taken great care with Dominion to emphasize the scale and regularity of what is being shown.

L: What were some of the practices marketed as “humane” that you saw time and time again as being anything but?

CD: Gas chambers were being proclaimed without scrutiny, or evidence, as a “high welfare/humane” method of stunning pigs for over 20 years. The footage we’ve obtained from five of these facilities, including the largest in the southern hemisphere, clearly shows that every pig who enters those chambers screams and thrashes in agony until they finally pass out.

Very little attention is paid to fish – there still seems to be a prevalent belief that they don’t feel pain, despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary. I’m so glad we were able to capture their “humane slaughter,” which in reality is a slow [death through] freezing over half an hour or [through] suffocation.

[Seeing] broiler (meat) chickens and turkeys struggling to stand or walk because they’ve been bred to grow so fast and so large that their legs can’t support their weight. Ducks having their throats cut while fully conscious because they’ve lifted their heads over the electric stun bath. I picked 3 or 4 incidents to use in the film out of dozens and dozens, captured on a single camera on a random workday.

Sheep, pigs and calves [being] jabbed in the head over and over with the electric stunner prongs, growing increasingly terrified with each failed attempt. Once or twice a day at a particular facility, sheep would manage to jump out of the knock box and run around the kill floor among hanging bodies in various stages of dismemberment.

Broiler Chicken Dominion Film

A chicken raised for meat production, known as a “broiler,” is disabled by its own unnatural weight. (Photo: Animal Liberation.)

L: How were you impacted the ordeal of having your home raided and the subsequent charges leveled against you?

CD: There have been a few pivotal moments in my seven years as an activist that very nearly broke me. Looking back, I credit them with making me so much stronger, more determined and resilient. The raid was definitely the most significant. I responded initially by making “Thousand Eyes,” a 4 minute edit of Lucent inspired by my anger, frustration and sadness, which has since been used for street outreach all over Australia and the world. A few months after [the raid], I was hit with the first round of charges, and I responded to that by announcing Dominion and launching a crowdfunding campaign for it. Those initial charges were dropped in favor of the “ag gag” charges under an existing Surveillance Devices law — for filming and publishing footage from inside pig farms and slaughterhouses. The law itself was a perfectly legitimate and necessary one focusing on matters of personal privacy, established in 2007 to replace the outdated Listening Devices Act. But this was the first time it had been used to protect commercial interests and send a message to activists.

After two years of minor court hearings, a three-day trial was finally set in August 2017. All charges were dismissed just one hour into the trial, as police were unable to prove that they’d obtained the proper written authority to lay the charges in the first place. The magistrate commented on the “incompetence” of the police and the clearly political nature of the case. [The experience] taught us [activists] a lot about police procedures and the types of evidence they can and do use, including phone and bank records, file metadata from seized hard drives and photos downloaded from our websites. Of course I’m expecting to be raided again in retaliation someday, but I’ve come to accept it’s just an unfortunate inevitability of trying to make the world a better place, and I know that I’ll be able to recover from it as I have before.

L: The footage is obviously the crux of Dominion, but the narration is also extremely important. What was the process behind it?

CD: I researched and wrote most of the script over an intense two weeks, after roughly 80% of the footage had been obtained, though in some sections I was able to rely on previous research by other individuals who had contributed to the Knowledgebase on our Repository website. I delayed writing the introduction and conclusion until after I’d edited the rest of the film together, knowing that I wouldn’t be in the right place mentally to properly put my thoughts and feelings into words until I’d sat through all of that footage. I then wrote the conclusion overnight while playing the London Grammar album “Truth is a Beautiful Thing” on repeat. A few days later we went out to Edgar’s Mission sanctuary to film the rescued animals for [the conclusion], and then finally I wrote and edited the introduction, which was probably the most difficult. Shaun and I recorded Joaquin and Rooney in the living room of their Los Angeles home, Joaquin first. Both were visibly and audibly distressed throughout the process depending on what they were describing, and with Joaquin in particular we needed to take a few breaks given the very heavy content. Dominion’s conclusion especially owes much of its power to their raw, genuine readings of it; you can really hear the emotion and sincerity in their voices.

Sheep Slaughter Saleyard Australia

Sheep crowded in a holding pen at Victorian Livestock Exchange in Pakenham, being sold for meat. (Photo: Unconsciouly Cruel.)

L: What was it like to team up with the creator of Earthlings, a film that had such an impact on your life?

CD: I’d been a huge admirer of Shaun’s work for several years; to have him agree to put his name on a film I’d written and edited, a film our small team had worked so hard on, was a very proud moment and a real feeling of validation. Before we started speaking with him, I’d been worried that he might feel some sort of resentment towards someone trying to enter his “space” in the movement, but that turned out to be the farthest from the truth. I’ve always been a proponent of activists and organizations working together.

L: Impressively, there is a self-care section on the film’s site. Why did you feel it was especially needed now, with the release of Dominion??

CD: Dominion was never meant to break or depress anyone — it was meant to empower and motivate. We want people to get active, not just for a short while, but for the long haul. Self-care is absolutely vital to keep us from burning out. A burnt-out activist is of no use to the animals.

L: Dominion shows animals being liberated from these harrowing places. Was there an intentional message to activists in including that kind of footage?

CD: There were a few motives for the end-credit scenes. We wanted to end the film on a hopeful, positive note, but also reinforce that this footage was obtained by real, ordinary humans, and that all of the suffering was real too. As these industries become more and more transparent through films like this, through other tools like our Repository website, and through more people going out to farms and slaughterhouses and sharing their experiences online, it’s inevitable that rescues will only continue to increase. Ultimately we can’t shut down these industries just through individual rescues, but with care and strategy, liberation is and should always be an important part of the movement. What I see as an inevitable step towards the end of animal abuse industries is an environment where every single one of the facilities is fair game. Their name, location, and what they do, publicly available for anyone to see, any of them potentially the next to be showcased on social media or in the news. If homes aren’t available for rescues, open investigations would still be very beneficial, I believe. 

Battery Cage Chicken Animal Liberation

A hen used for egg production is rescued from a battery cage. (Photo: Bear Witness Australia.)

L: What are some of the logistics in running a complex project like the Aussie Farms Repository and your plans for it?

CD: Australia is a proof of concept. I want to show that [the Repository] is a valuable and effective tool, so that when the time comes to expand worldwide, it already has a reputation and extensive demonstration of its capabilities. At the moment, the uploads are from a fairly limited number of users, with much of the material coming from already-released investigations available on our other websites (aussiepigs.com and aussieturkeys.com), though gradually more individuals are starting to upload their own content. I hope to get it to a stage where activists and organizations who conduct investigations upload their material to it, to essentially become a cross between Wikipedia, WikiLeaks and Youtube, covering the entirety of animal exploitation industries and serving as the first stop for anyone who wants to learn or to educate others.

L: I imagine that Dominion Movement has attracted some remarkable participants. Are there any personal stories that stick out for you? 

CD: Dominion’s Assistant Director, and the Operations Director of Aussie Farms, Lissy Jayne has been an integral member of our team for the last four years and has never wanted any credit, but recently has been gaining overdue recognition. The iconic calf on the Dominion poster was photographed by Lissy during an investigation. A lot of the photos used in our campaigns were captured by her, and many have been released through her own organization Bear Witness Australia. During the Dominion March, she stood on stage holding up prints of some of the individual animals she’s encountered during investigations, while a speech written by her was read out by Apoorva Madan, the vegan psychologist who wrote the self-care material on the [Dominion] site. Lissy has been heavily involved in our investigations, campaigns and actions and is now taking on more speaking roles to give much-needed female representation in a male-dominated movement.

“The truth can be not just an incredibly powerful tool, but sometimes all that is needed to put an end to a horrible injustice that has gone unchallenged for decades.”

L: You’ve witnessed a great deal over the years, but is there any one specific experience that was a major catalyst in cultivating your present-day drive?

CD: The first pig farm I ever went to will always stay with me. Until then we’d mainly been doing rescues, but it became clear to me at that point that our priority needed to shift to investigations. When I walked out of the farrowing shed, I turned to the person who had come with me and said that we were going to shut it down, and we did, not through the authorities who did lay charges against the piggery but later dropped them, but through the relentless public pressure that came as a result of putting the footage and photos out into the world. The experience showed me that information — the truth — can be not just an incredibly powerful tool, but sometimes all that is needed to put an end to a horrible injustice that had gone unchallenged for decades.

by Julie Gueraseva

Top photo by Lissy Jayne of a calf bound for slaughter, courtesy of Dominion Movement.


LAIKA’s mission is to bring you authentic, well-rounded and accurate reporting on vegan culture and activism. We’re so grateful to have readers like you. Even a small donation will help our cause and keep LAIKA strong, so it can continue to inspire and inform. Thank you for supporting us with Patreon.

Actress Harley Quinn Smith LAIKA vegan magazine coverDear readers, it is with great joy that we bring you LAIKA Magazine’s 7th issue: the Haven Issue. It’s a shelter from turmoil where justice, equality and empathy are firmly upheld. The Haven issue invites you to create a world in which all are safe and valued. Gracing the cover is vegan actress and passionate animal advocate Harley Quinn Smith, who represents beautifully her generation’s optimism and determination. Inside, she shares a heartfelt open letter to Gen Z about the importance of allyship and the urgency of animal rights.

Harley Quinn Smith LAIKA Magazine vegan fashion

Through fearless journalism and unforgettable photography, the Haven Issue disrupts oppression. We underscore the connection between animal liberation and human liberation in stories like “United We Rise,” which features Aph Ko and Sunaura Taylor, among other brilliant voices from the movement. The stunning feature “She Matters” makes evident how essential asserting animals as individuals is to dismantling speciesism, and why this matters so much to feminism.

Rescued farm animals at sanctuaryIntersectional animal rights activism

Throughout the issue, we celebrate dynamic vegan women like Jenné Claiborne and Madelynn De La Rosa, who are broadening vibrant spaces of creativity and compassion. We demonstrate the beauty of standing up for the vulnerable in stories about kitten rescuer Hannah Shaw and rhino defender Damian Mander.

Sweet Potato Soul YouTuber Jenne ClaiborneThe innocence of animals in the Haven Issue reminds us that on this earth, there is no need to dominate anyone. Life is at its most complete in peaceful co-existence. This is wondrously showcased in “The Last Place on Earth,” which tells the incredible story of how the First Nations communities of the Great Bear Rainforest protected their sacred land, its wildlife and our environment from a destructive pipeline.

Great Bear Rainforest

Every page of the Haven Issue is an artistic statement intended to uplift, energize and provoke discourse and action. With gorgeous imagery and resonating storytelling, LAIKA is an uncompromising source of independent media that provides you, our dear reader, with an immersive experience. Order your copy of the Seventh Issue of LAIKA or subscribe today.

On the Cover: Photography by Ryan Pfluger; creative direction by Julie Gueraseva; styling by Jessica Zanotti. “She Matters” photographed by Sammantha Fisher. “United We Rise” illustrated by Camila Rosa. “From the Soul” photographed by Paige Carter. “The Last Place on Earth” photographed by Jennifer MaHarry.

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What the Health Vegan Documentary Interview

Filmmakers Keegan Kuhn (left) and Kip Andersen. Photo courtesy of “What the Health.”

In a pivotal scene in What the Health, the new documentary from the creators of Cowspiracy, filmmaker Kip Andersen visits families in Duplin County, North Carolina — an area known as the “hog capital of the world,” where confined pigs outnumber people 40 to 1. “My neighbor there died from cancer probably just last year. My nephew down the street, he’s got cancer. Not a smoker, not a drinker,” resident Rene Miller tells Andersen. A stone’s throw from her home pig waste is sprayed weekly into the open air. North Carolina’s pig CAFOs disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, reflecting a pattern “recognized as environmental racism,” a 2014 study found. As the camera pans to containers full of dead pigs left to decompose by the side of the road  ( to be later ground up and fed back to the living pigs) Miller says, “I don’t eat bacon, because I know where it comes from.”

 

WHAT THE HEALTH from AUM Films & Media

 

Animal agriculture is eroding human health, much in the same way as it is decimating communities like the one in Duplin County. A multitude of peer-reviewed studies have linked animal products to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. Dairy boosts the amount of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) in the blood, which promotes cancer cell growth. Processed meats and eggs are carcinogens , and the list goes on. Yet as we learn in What the Health, not only are leading health organizations dodging discussions on the role of plant-based foods in disease prevention, they are actively recommending the consumption of animal products to sick people.

 

What The Health Documentary Exposes Truth

A still from “What the Health” conveys the truth about carcinogenic properties in a typical bacon-and-eggs breakfast.

In their quest to find out why, Andersen and co-director Keegan Kuhn uncover how the US government, medical industry and health organizations are colluding with animal agriculture in putting the public’s health at risk for the sake of profit. The truth, as it turns out, is stranger than fiction: There’s government-funded marketing schemes to increase meat and cheese consumption; tens of millions of dollars are spent promoting dairy products to children in schools; the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society and the USDA’s dietary guidelines committee all take massive donations from the likes of Tyson, National Dairy Council, Oscar Meyer and KFC. And the meat and pharma lobby is so rich and powerful, they’re practically writing the laws.

It’s a harrowing reality, but What the Health is ultimately about self-empowerment. Through compelling interviews with renown physicians, world-class athletes (including LAIKA’s former cover star David Carter) and regular people who have reversed chronic diseases with a vegan diet, the film shows that the solution lies in our hands. “It begins with us now. We can’t rely on the government to do something about this,” Kip Andersen tells LAIKA. “We have to stop eating all horrific animals’ flesh and end it from the demand side up.” Here, Andersen shares with us more candid thoughts on the film’s process and the meaning of true health.

 

Did you face some of the same challenges in making What the Health as you did with Cowspiracy?
The biggest trouble is these organizations that you think would want to talk, similar to Cowspiracy — the environmental NGOs, the health groups — just don’t want to, because they know they are essentially failing the public in telling the truth about what’s causing a lot of these diseases that they are supposedly in the business of trying to help stop or prevent. Cowspiracy was considered groundbreaking because there had only been a couple of people at that point who had really dug deep into the environmental impacts [of animal agriculture]. The medical community is in the dark, but you have quite a few doctors now who are kind of renegades who had to find out [the truth] on their own — of course they didn’t learn about it in medical school. There are a lot more doctors being turned on to the secret of a vegan diet and [its impacts on] health, so it was easier to find more people to talk to in What the Health.

Did making the film make you feel hopeful, then, that widespread awareness in the medical field is imminent?
It’s a matter of time. It’s just been hidden for so long. And in this time we live in, you just can’t hide the truth anymore. I feel What the Health is a big catalyst for getting this into the mainstream. That just has to fall over into the medical field, because people are going to start telling their doctors they’ve watched this movie. In 2-3 years, [this information] is going to be common knowledge. You’re going to see this taught, and known in the medical community.

What compelled you to embark on an undertaking as massive as a feature-length documentary on a highly controversial topic?
It’s personal for me because of my family history. That was the real driving factor. My dad has had several heart blockages. My grandpa died of heart disease and diabetes. I have cancer on both sides, a lot of diabetes. My aunt is dying of diabetes. [My family] always warned me, “Kip, you’re going to have heart disease.” And then to find out, [the cause] is mostly our diet! A lot of this is to, honestly, show my family and friends that I love.

How did you approach making a fact-dense film like What the Health?
It’s so important to have a strong narrative that’s entertaining, so the audience can easily digest it and actually enjoy watching it. A lot of it was about going further into research, finding out about the connections, the money trail. We kept interviewing people, they told us to interview someone else, we looked into that. One thing led to another. Then we laid it out into as entertaining of a story as we could, because there is so much information, like you said. The goal is definitely to get this into the mainstream.

True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

People don’t typically consider the devastating impact that animal agriculture has on communities, like the one you visited near a pig farm in North Carolina. What was that experience like for you?
My Dad lives in North Carolina. I just feel so sad for the people who live anywhere near these awful places. There’s this whole bacon craze, and people think bacon is ‘cool.’ And it’s so not. In North Carolina, you really see the impact of those food choices. This state that is so beautiful is in such a state of urgency. Thousands of fish dead in the beautiful river. With What the Health, we wanted people to realize what true health is. A lot of people think of health as ‘paleo’, which is not [healthy] — you’re only thinking about yourself. True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

What do you think can be done in the more immediate future to help these communities?
Other than lawsuits, a big thing that will progress the truth coming out is processed meat being classified as a carcinogen by WHO (World Health Organization). When something is a classified carcinogen, it has to be labeled. If you get something from The Home Depot that has arsenic, it’s labeled. So it’s just a matter of time before bacon, processed meat, deli slices have a warning label on. And when that happens, it’s going to have a big impact.

At the screening in New York, you said that if 10 percent of population believe in a vegan world, then that world will come to be. How, in your opinion, can we cultivate a sense of optimism, so we can get to that tipping point faster?
If you tell yourself, “I’m not going to be successful,” it’s not going to happen. You could be doing the right things, going to school, getting your master’s. But if you say you’re not going to be successful, you just aren’t. You’re not going to be happy. It’s [the same way] in society and culture as a whole. It sounds kind of cliché, but thoughts become things. The law of attraction is so true. And you have to see it, you have to believe it. These new companies popping up, vegan restaurants, everyone putting billions of dollars into plant based foods, and on and on. And then it hits you — oh my god, this is happening at an exponential rate! This is happening and it’s happening now.  You don’t have to convince 100 percent of the people, you only have to convince around 10 percent, and the rest falls into place. That’s how every social [justice] movement is. You get that core 10 percent of people who really believe, and then it just happens. And it happens fast.

 

By Julie Gueraseva

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