On Monday, July 26th, a low budget animal lib film screening at Anthology Film Archives became a fascinatingly larger phenomenon. Animal welfare personalities like Moby and Russell Simmons appeared, tons of disparate vegan groups showed up to table across the entire theater (the star being a rescued beagle from Azopharma’s animal testing laboratory who tabled for W.A.R.), and AR legend Andy Stepanian gave a speech in full ski mask gear about compassion in the face of animal testing horrors that made people weep openly. Needless to say, this type of thing doesn’t usually happen when a low budget, non-distributed, independent film about animal rights screens in the East Village. So why did it happen this time? In a nutshell, people flocked to the sold-out show because they heard it was excellent enough to warrant such a turnout, and they realized it was way past due for a film like it to be made and seen.
Interestingly, there was never before a professionally-made narrative feature film about the growing world of animal liberation groups. Despite the sheer amount of political attention and defense budget that the Bush administration devoted to animal welfare groups, and despite the impressively unconstitutional nature of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act passed during the Bush era, scifi/horror movies like 12 Monkeys or 28 Days Later were the closest anyone’s come to an ALF movie. Enter Bold Native.
Camille Hankins of W.A.R., left, Freedom the rescue beagle, middle, and Russell Simmons, right, at the Bold Native screening. Photo by Lauren Krohn.
Bold Native is the independent child of Denis Henry Hennelly, and his film follows the experiences of a charismatic animal liberator in the US. The film aims, simply, to finally show the intense and gritty world of everyday citizens that you live and work next to (and are often related to), who have made the simple decision to stop tolerating the torture of fellow sentient beings. What is presented to the viewer is an exciting and realistic story that most ordinary people can relate to. It is at times very painful and difficult to watch, yet anyone who still thinks that large organic dairy or egg farms are nice to animals needs to watch this.
Although the script and performances are quite daring, in many ways they don’t need to be. It’s an inherently powerful and moving film whose characters deal with the very imposing threat of encouraging animal welfare in the US, despite the recent laws that brand that type of speech as terrorism.
However, the most powerful aspect of the film is an interesting cinematic device with an intention to drive the realism of the film home. The movie intermixes real, undercover footage of animal liberation actions with the narrative story footage. It’s a fascinating approach that constantly reminds you that what you’re watching is still happening today. Many people at the screening were uncontrollably overwhelmed, as weeping and gasping during rescue scenes were audible.
Director Denis Henry Hennelly, left, and Russell Simmons, right, at the Bold Native screening. Photo by Lauren Krohn.
However, if the film was just a gloom and doom fest, it would be a predictable nightmare of suffering akin to a regular snuff film. Surprisingly, though, in the new tradition of movies like The Cove, the film is entertaining, which you frankly wouldn’t expect from a narrative film showing animal torture footage. The film is actually funny and thrilling at unexpected moments.
While the plot is straightforward enough – a young man, whose father is a food enterprise executive, decides to follow an ALF path – the choices the characters make and their adventures are often refreshingly surprising. Their circumstances are easy to picture happening to people who face such choices in real life, and you wouldn’t know how you’d react in those circumstances yourself. Yet even in those moments, characters are often wisecracking, and true to life in that they use humor to stay sane during harsh times.
In a nutshell, Bold Native is a film that most people need to see, even if the subject matter is something they would never consider watching a film about. Like people who don’t want to ruin their enjoyment of their sweatshop-made sneakers, a gentle education may help increase their compassion for others who give up their lives unwillingly to serve us. And as evidenced by the impressive reception it got at an independent screening, it seems that the entertaining and humorous Bold Native may be just the right tool to educate on the topic.