Can Films Change the World?

Can Films Change the World?

i Mar 16th Comments Off by

Will Argo or Lincoln change lives? They’ll certainly redistribute more than a little wealth and also spur countless dinner party arguments about historical accuracy. But more than that? Or is that enough for an Oscar?

Peaceable Kingdom

Peaceable Kingdom

Should films, and particularly celebrated films, change lives? A cynic might claim that the Oscars aren’t about changing lives but something close to the opposite. They might be simply a celebration of the technical and human brilliance at transmogrifying even the most serious of topics into mere entertainment.

Geoff Russell, March 2013


Certainly some films can change lives. But Oscar films? How many of these change the arc of a person’s being rather than just the way they spend a couple of hours? Even if accurate, my generalisation will flounder before counterexamples.

Last week I went to a free viewing of a film that won’t get an Oscar but has won some other prizes. Peaceable Kingdom is a documentary that was shown as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival in a free double bill with a talk by vegan benefactor Philip Wollen, one of the people behind the Sea Shepherd campaigns against barbarism in the Southern Ocean. It’s wonderful seeing Australian politicians fall over each other arguing about the best ways to fight whaling while happily allowing Australian industries of equivalent barbarism to operate with the full protection of the law. It’s an indication that they are perhaps one good film away from changing their lives. Maybe Peaceable Kingdom is that film.

My use of the word “vegan” is a spoiler about the film’s subject matter … animals and our relationships with them.

The star of the film for me was a sheep. She’d been separated from her lamb during the rescue of hundreds of animals from an animal hoarder. Found amid squalor and a jaw dropping graveyard of bones and bodies in varying stages between life and death, many sheep were separated after a decision by the equivalent of our RSPCA Inspectors that the lambs would be better off fostered on their own, rather than kept with their mums. But the decision was soon reversed and trailer loads of lambs started to arrive at a paddock holding the sheep. The sheep soon realised what was happening and the camera focused on one in particular as she waited anxiously on the arrival of each new load to see if her lamb was on board. I’ve not had much to do with sheep in my life, but the anxiety in the body language of the sheep was instantly recognisable as she watched the lambs unload. It could have been any mother separated from her child by any disaster on the planet. It happened to be a sheep. Forget Sally Field as Molly Lincoln mourning her son, or Meryl Streep and Sophie’s Choice, if the sheep had been acting, she’d have outshone both for an Oscar.

But of course it was no act and the removal of farm animals from their mums is a daily part of modern farming.

What happened? Was her lamb alive? See the film.

The human stars of Peaceable Kingdom mainly played second fiddle to the animals, but come primarily from the animal farming community. Howard Lyman hauled his 170 kg red necked body away from his life as a 4th generation cattle rancher with 1,000 cattle on grass and 6,000 in feedlots. His wife talks about her 6 year old son’s tears during his first experience of branding cattle. Like her, she remarks, he sooned toughened up. But it’s just a shell. She now knows it. It’s useful when you need to kill an animal that is beyond help. But it’s a shell that has been promoted to a position of incompetence. Toughness in the face of the suffering of others has become a tool to run and promote industries like whaling, chicken meat, cattle meat that we simply don’t need. Harold Brown is also an ex-cattle man who describes his awakening to animal feelings as worthy of respect as “a journey home”. He’d always realised that the strong bonds he felt with his dogs were both instinctive and rational but it took him years to understand that the violence he practised as a cattle farmer was simply the result of the repression of his basic instincts.

The film certainly has some graphic footage, though not a lot in comparison to the daily hidden horrors behind the meat and dairy supply chain. But it’s difficult for me to judge the impact of such things. I’ve seen it all many times over many years. I’ve been through the toughening process and have killed when necessary. But the emotional impact of a joyful bond between human and animal seems never to lose its power to move. Watching people play chasey with goats has the same undiminished power to provoke pleasure as watching any group of children happily doing the same thing. So the film works more through positive images than shock and horror, but it certainly doesn’t avoid the truth.

You didn’t see Peaceable Kingdom at the Oscars, but if you are game for a possibly life changing experience, track it down and watch it. Be warned, you may never be the same again.

Dietary Guidelines Submission

i Aug 30th Comments Off by

Animal Liberation SA has made a submission to the NHMRC concerning the draft Australian Dietary Guidelines

Who owns our Dietary Guidelines

i Aug 30th Comments Off by

For those who missed the announcement, Australia’s 24,000 GPs and 3,500 Dietitians will soon have an new weapon in their battle against big bellies and hard arteries. Junk food can be fast and greasy from multinationals with multi-million dollar advertising budgets or wanky and ever so slow and creamy from obese chefs with inexplicable TV pulling powers. Either way, the consequent early onset of ill-health is miserable and expensive.

The current weapon of choice against premature ill-health is nought but a post-hoc response. We have a vast and miraculous hospital system with a silo of subsidised medication so that older Australians can continue to greet the day with a zipper in their chest and bacon and eggs on their plate. (more…)

Archer’s dodgy claims III … mouse deaths

i Aug 30th Comments Off by

In what follows, I use “veg*n” to mean vegan or vegetarian where it doesn’t make any difference.

Mike Archer claimed in an article just before Christmas 2011 that:

” … if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do.”

His evidence related to the number of mice killed during cereal production.

Even if we was right about the number of mice killed during cereal production, his claim is still obviously false because the average Australian consumes far more grain, embodied in the bodies of their meat, than any veg*n could consume. So clearly being veg*n isn’t the worstyou can do.

But Archer didn’t get the number right. He’s out by about a factor of about 400. (more…)

Archer’s dodgy claims II … land use

i Aug 30th Comments Off by

Mike Archer of the University of NSW took a huge swing at vegetarians in a pre-christmas article on “The Conversation”.   It’s a bit difficult to deal with the central theme of the piece without first dealing with the factual errors that form the background. The mythology with which he frames his main point is far more important than the purported central claim.

This post concerns Archer’s mistakes about land requirements to feed a veg*n population. (more…)

Archer’s dodgy claims I … health advice

i Aug 30th Comments Off by

Professor Mike Archer is well known for his advocacy of eating kangaroos. Just before Christmas, Archer penned a singularly provocative article on “The Conversation” called: Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands”. I’ll discuss the article more generally in a separate post, but for the moment I want to focus on some health claims for kangaroo meat that were made in comments following the article by both Archer and colleague Rosie Cooney from UNSW.

You can say what you want in a blog, but has anybody seen a label on packaged kangaroo meat saying “This meat has anti-cancer properties”? (more…)

Response to “The Conversation” critics

i Aug 30th Comments Off by

Scott Sharman, among others, keeps misleading people about my claims about duck shooting wounding rates in his general ad-hominem attack in the comments on Mike Archers article. I’ve been responding to such claims since 1994. Duck shooters aren’t deterred by evidence and are more than happy to lie loudly and often (I detail on this other blog entry their persistent misleading claims about the level of duck shooting in NSW following the 1995 ban). I guess I can repeat myself one more time. (more…)

Animals paying a heavy price

i Aug 30th Comments Off by

Animals paying a price for a changing climate

If it isn’t on film, then perhaps it didn’t happen. If it isn’t on wikileaks, then perhaps it happened, but wasn’t important enough to cover up. But if it wasn’t caught on a mobile phone camera, then it definitely didn’t happen. This seems to be modern wisdom for a society kept in a permanent state of genuflexion with a choker collar held by the mass media dominatrix. Of course it’s rubbish. There are still some things you won’t see on u-tube or the 6 o’clock news. (more…)

Fuelling fishy furphies

i Aug 30th Comments Off by


Fuelling fishy furfies

A recent Adelaide Advertiser article opened with the sentence:

Taking omega-3 supplements can protect us against heart disease, inflammatory diseases like arthritis and are important for the development of the brain and visual system in infants.

As an opening sentence, this has the kind of definiteness that normally comes from a journalist writing about some issue they don’t know anything about. Like when the sports writer has to cover for the medical writer or vice versa. Scientists, on the other hand, are frustratingly famous for rejecting black and white in favour of grey with their finely nuanced statements. But this article wasn’t from the pen of any time-starved journalist out of their element and meeting a tight deadline, it was from an Adelaide University academic … Dr Beverly Muhlhausler. (more…)

Vitamin B12 … what’s the fuss about?

i Aug 30th Comments Off by


B12, what’s the fuss about?

In Otzi’s Isotopes I mentioned that 6 of 69 areas of China surveyed in The China Study at no animal products and that these areas had probably been eating this way for a very, very long time. The point wasn’t to claim that the diets of any of these areas was optimal, it was part of an explanation of the meaning of omnivore. But these Chinese diets contain no B12 source, so their apparent safety needs an explanation. Without a source of B12, people get sick and die … it is essential. Contrast this situation with long chain omega-3 oils … the topic of next week’s blog. We can make long chain omega-3s from short chained forms which we have to eat. We are constantly told by all manner of advocates to eat fish to get these long chained forms. Fish, it turns out can’t make them, they have to get them by eating phytoplankton, which can, or by eating other fish who have eaten phytoplankton. But that’s next week, lets get back to this week. (more…)