Film review: Speciesism

Speciesism: The Movie. Directed by Mark Devries, 92 minutes, 2013.

This American documentary has a distinctly different approach to other films about animal rights. Director Mark Devries was only 25 when he began the project, and surprisingly had no technical knowledge about film making. Crucially, at the outset he’s definitely a ‘speciesist’ and wants to refute the fundamental beliefs of the AR movement. So his first interviews are conducted at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Subsequently, he talks to an impressive list of individuals including Tom Regan, Jonathan Balcombe and Peter Singer. The views of the latter are essential because his seminal 1975 book Animal Liberation established the idea of speciesism; that is, the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals (although Richard Ryder actually coined the term ‘speciesism’ in 1970.)

As Devries begins to understand what really goes within the meat industry his attitude changes, and watching Speciesism presents a potentially life changing experience for others like him. His personal journey includes trying unsuccessfully to get inside the enormous sheds that house countless battery chickens, and flying over the vast “hog farms” in North Carolina (the US state that has more pigs than people). An aerial view shows enormous lagoons of pig faeces, which he discovers is sprayed across all the local fields with disastrous environmental consequences. However, one of the film’s great strengths is that there is hardly any ‘blood and guts’ footage. Instead, he constantly talks to a disparate range of people (including the ‘man in the street’) and repeatedly hears the same old cliches about why it’s OK to slaughter animals for food, and exploit them in every possible way that humans can think of. In sharp contrast to these predictable and contradictory comments, all the animal rights proponents make their points with clarity and conviction. And although the subject matter is deadly serious, there is one hilarious and surreal moment when he interviews a leader of the American Nazi Party (who looks like a pathetic, fat reject from the chorus line of The Producers.)

Although the first 20 minutes are slightly meandering, and some of the camera work and editing isn’t technically perfect, this is a very good documentary. During the conclusion one activist proudly declares that “the spread of veganism is happening at lightning speed”. If only that was true, but this film is a fantastic contribution to making it a reality.

Paul Freestone


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