I was fortunate to attend the premiere of the moving documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine last friday in New York City. Beautifully conceived and executed by director Liz Marshall, Ghosts follows intrepid photographer Jo-Anne McArthur through her worldwide, industry-wide documentation of animal abuse.
Ghosts takes us on Jo-Anne’s physical and spiritual journey- to the dark locations rarely glimpsed by human beings, as well as the places she goes for sanctuary and catharsis. The film perfectly mirrors her reality such that we empathize with the animals and the photographer. Along the way, we see what she sees – both the misery and the inherent beauty in animals regardless of their circumstances. The experience is so visceral that I actually felt the quality and warmth of the light that illuminates her artistic path.
Many have asked me if the film is hard to take. Here’s what I tell them. The primary purpose of Ghosts is to educate, so there is no sugar coating. However Ghosts is crafted in a way that we do not linger past where most will find it impossible- it transitions regularly from painful places to redemptive ones. It is the moments of calm at animal sanctuaries and the instances of victory that give the viewer respite, as they do Jo, from the horrors playing out all over the globe. And while there are some difficult scenes (although not gratuitously so) I feel that it’s our duty to witness the emergency that is animal cruelty. If we close our eyes, we are separating ourselves from reality- it is that disconnect that fuels the fur, meat and dairy industries.
Regardless of whether one’s life pivots about animal rights, we cannot truly experience the animals’ reality on a regular basis. Ghosts connects us to individual animals as well as the universal suffering of animals. Moments into the film I was reconnected with my own connection to animals and this movement. I was moved to spring from my seat and act- and might have, were it not for my being transfixed to the screen.
It seemed there was no possibility of my being further moved that night, but it happened anyway. The atmosphere of pride and elation was infectious upon entering the theater. It was incredibly fortifying to be at a successful premiere in a gorgeous landmark theater with a community of committed animal rights activists. Seeing Jo, Susie Coston of Farm Sanctuary, Liz Marshall, Joshua Katcher of the Discerning Brute, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart of Vaute Couture, and many others looking gorgeous and proud on the red carpet was truly empowering. These, (and many others featured in the film) are the kind of people who are deserving of celebrity status- these are the people who make changes in this world and set an incredible example.
The atmosphere of excitement and accomplishment spilled over to the afterparty at Mooshoes, where sweet and savory Blue Ghost Dun-well donuts were served, along with some gorgeous hors d’orderves ( I didn’t photograph any of the food, or anything for that matter that night, but have a look at photographer Derek Goodwin’s images.) It was humbling to look around at the group there, each one individual committed to doing their part in this fight. As I gazed around the space I saw so many talented individuals who use their talents to promote animal rights. They do so through such diverse avenues as filmmaking & photography, food, law, clothing and beyond. I am so proud to know this community of activists, to be a small part of this machine that is gathering a lot of steam.
If you’re in New York, please see The Ghosts in Our Machine until November 21 at The Village East Cinemas, or if you’re in Los Angeles check it out from November 15. It’s also coming to the midwest- have a look at the info on showings throughout the country. And I’m obviously not a film critic, so take a look at this spot-on review in the Los Angeles Times, as well as more positive feedback in The New York Times and the Village Voice!
I also encourage you to pre-order Jo-Anne McArthur’s phenomenal new book, We Animals, that is ten years in the making. I had the opportunity to sit down at Mooshoes and read/ look through it for a few minutes. It defied all of my (already high) expectations. I actually had to put it down since it was far too compelling to experience at a party- I wanted to savor every word and image for the first time in a quieter moment. It’s that good. And since it will be a few weeks till the book arrives in our hands, see Jo’s work at her website, weanimals.org
Have you seen the film yet? What were your thoughts?