Vegansaurus Double Features! »
Welcome to the first biannual, I mean regular, installment of Vegansaurus Double Features, your ticket (ha, oh man am I off to a good start!) to vegan-interest cinema. “What?!” you might ask. “Here’s a handy FAQ,” I say.
Q: Why movies?
A: Because I ran out of gardening things to talk about and I am a highly respected film critic.
Q: Why vegan?
A: That’s a stupid question.
Q: Why double feature?
A: Because the New Yorker always reviews two movies at once, and Vegansaurus, as is evident, is basically the new New Yorker: lengthy articles, thoughtful detachment from political issues, and bougie ads for weird hats.
OK! Enough with all your silly questions. In this issue, we look at two new amazing documentaries about humankind’s complex relationship with animals and nature.
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, the first full-length from biologist-turned-documentarian Jessica Oreck, is a beautiful film that uses Japan’s national obsession with insects as a way to explore larger questions like how we think of ourselves in relation to nature. Don’t let the profundity scare you off: even though this documentary is swarming with insight about haiku, Japanese and Western cultural differences, the urban/nature dichotomy, and the nature of beauty (to name a few!), it’s also incredibly easy on the eyes, featuring inventive cinematography that really captures the wonder of its protagonists–-beetles, larvae, moths, and crickets, especially. And for your ears, there’s an impressive soundtrack of J-pop and experimental Japanese electronic music. All of this is to say: this is a film that works on multiple levels, and one of the best documentaries so far this year. It’s playing RIGHT NOW at the Kabuki in San Francisco through July 15 (Thursday!); I highly recommend it.
I had the chance to see Ms. Oreck present the film in Los Angeles a few months ago, and she had a lot to say about the film. She thinks that Americans have a lot to learn from the Japanese and their perspective on and appreciation of nature, but acknowledges that, as with all societies, there are a lot of contradictions in that relationship. Vegansaurus readers will probably immediately think of The Cove here. What Beetle Queen shows, however, is how “appreciation” of beautiful insects in Japan has led to both an interest in protecting and restoring their natural habitats and the less-benign commodification of all things insect-related. Yeah, it’s cute that Japanese kids play videogames about insects. But commodification has also led to insect collecting of both live and dead bugs, both bought and captured. Japanese pay bundles of yen at large conventions for big beetles to keep as pets, and pinned insect collections are popular hobbies. So, be warned–-for insect lovers, this film isn’t always uplifting.
The tangled relationship between collecting animals and habitat preservation is also at the core of Ghost Bird. Ghost Bird is the long-awaited sequel to Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, starring everyone’s favorite weird-eyed actor Forest Whitaker as a hit man who uses samurai techniques. Just kidding, it’s a documentary on the supposed rediscovery of the fabled ivory-billed woodpecker. But whatever—same difference!
This truly majestic woodpecker, maybe the most stunning bird that has ever lived in the United States, was thought to have become extinct over half a century ago until a kayaker in an Arkansas swamp caught sight of one in 2004. Ghost Bird outlines what turned out to be the most ambitious, and costly, species recovery campaign in history, fueled not only by excited birders, but by the community where the bird was spotted (which experienced booming economic growth from the ensuing tourism), politicians, and research teams from prestigious universities. While the archival footage of the ivory-billed woodpecker alone is worth the price of admission, the story behind its rediscovery unfolds like a satisfying mystery (or, if you’re a dorky birder, maybe the most exciting, cargo-pants-staining mystery you’ve ever seen), full of dubious motivations and shady characters.
It’s a complex tale, to be sure. Especially interesting is that, like Beetle Queen, Ghost Bird show’s how man’s obsession with a beautiful animal has led to both its collection (and, in this case, destruction) as well as prompting preservation efforts. The scientists working on the “case” use drawerfuls of stuffed specimens of the bird to verify sightings-–specimens collected long ago by other scientists and amateur birders because of the bird’s rarity and beauty that, one researcher admits, contributed to the bird’s extinction.
While Ghost Bird isn’t quite the visual spectacle that is Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, it tells an amazing story. Anyone interested in animals, preservation, and Forrest Whitaker should seek this one out!
This is a trailer for Dirt! the Movie, which you can go see this very evening. Yes it’s last-minute, but it’s also Tuesday, what else do you have planned? Tonight at 7:30 Hayes Valley Farm is hosting a screening of Dirt! the Movie, a documentary about soil. No, that does not sound totally dull, it sounds totally fascinating. Then again, I love a documentary, of course I’d watch this. It’s narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, now known for her ridiculous Activia commercials, so if you get bored you can make “regularity” jokes!
The doors open at 7:30 with “shorts and live music” from How-To Homestead, and the film begins at 8:15. TONIGHT! Tickets cost $5 for general admission (“bring your own blanket”) and $10 to reserve a chair; for $3 more you can buy homemade popcorn and a drink. No word on whether the popcorn is vegan, unfortunately. Hayes Valley Farm is located at 450 Laguna St. between Oak and Fell Streets.
It starts in under three hours so you better make dinner plans soon OK? Because you’ll definitely want to see this!
Like myself, I’m sure you’ve been too busy to watch any movies ever since they put My So-Called Life on Hulu. But I’ve got something for you! Not just a movie but a DOCUMENTARY! A BUNNY documentary! A POLISH bunny documentary! Like that roll-out? Yes normally I steer clear of documentaries on account of my aversion to learning, but this one looks like something I can handle!
Królik po berlinsku, or Rabbit à la Berlin is a 40-minute film about the rabbits who lived between the Berlin Walls. I miss a lot of things, especially when they pertain to commies, and I guess I missed that there were actually two Berlin Walls. Or really, I guess it was this whole structure with guarded towers and a small amount of space that ran in between the whole thing. Also known as the “death zone,” for 28 years this grassy, predator-free area was home to our rabbit protagonists. With all they could eat and their own armed guards, their numbers grew to the thousands. Um, amazing!
It seems like a decidedly different view of a tense political period. Basically, the bunnies were chilling. And guess what! Rabbit à la Berlin is up for an Oscar in the documentary short category. Yay bunnies! Unfortunately, I’ve only seen this trailer. I’m not sure where or when you can catch the short but I’m guessing film festivals for the time being. How much do you love the music in this trailer though? Hint: SO MUCH.
[shout out to Potentially Nervous for bringing this to our attention!]
Movie review: Meat, the thinking person’s slaughterhouse documentary »
This is a pretty obscure film, but I’ve LOVED Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries* ever since I saw Welfare in law school. So when I learned he once pointed his camera at the inner workings of a slaughterhouse and meatpacking facility in 1970s Massachusetts, I knew I had to watch it. Not only does Wiseman show cattle and lambs rounded up, fed, slaughtered, and turned into meat products, but we also see footage of animal auctions, the rather mundane administration of the company, labor meetings, and marketing discussions—Meat made me feel like I was a part of every aspect of a meatpacking company.
Wiseman refuses to provide narration, thereby forcing the viewer to take what they will from Meat. Thus, the movie plays like a seemingly unbiased, unemotional exposé of an industry typically unexposed to the vast majority of the country. The veil between animal and meat product is the disconnect animal rights activists fight against on a daily basis—despite what the dairy industry would have you believe, I’m pretty sure none of their cows in California are happy. In lifting the veil, Meat felt to me like a precursor to PETA videos. But while that horrific footage will never find their way into a high school classroom or aired on television due to their overtly politicized message, Wiseman presents Meat so evenhandedly that one could actually imagine such market penetration, much to the meat industry’s dismay.
But oh dear god; watching Meat is no less unsettling. Trust me when I say Wiseman doesn’t pull any punches. I’m stating the obvious, but the slaughterhouse scenes are beyond ghastly. I can’t describe my revulsion at watching a cow’s skin, intestines and head being ripped from its body. I’m bracing myself for the inevitable nightmares; the film’s visceral impact is crushing.
I also have to admit feeling really bad for the employees on the slaughterhouse floor, dismembering cows for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Can you imagine the psychic trauma of that job? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre analogized slaughterhouse workers to a nation besieged by bloody images from Vietnam for very, very good reason. You might think “Well, they should just get another job,” but keep in mind that it’s rarely a seamless process to transfer jobs, particularly in this job market, particularly in certain parts of the country and especially for the undereducated. Anyhow, in addition to screaming “WHY ARE THEY CUTTING UP THAT VERY CUTE LAMB?” Meat also made me ponder the abusive psychological and economic power dynamic involved in the production of every steak.
Put it this way: if PETA videos are the porno of animal abuse videos, designed to grab the viewer’s attention and heighten their emotions, Meat is the calm, investigative PBS special. This is the thinking person’s slaughterhouse documentary—there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write—best for educating your friends and family about the reality of meat production and animal commodification. In this respect, I thought Meat was an utterly engrossing masterpiece. Alternately, in the sense that Meat required me to watch a lot of grisly, gruesome footage of harmless creatures being killed and dismembered like a real-life horror movie, I really hated it.
Damn. Someone owes me some vegan booze for making it through this one! I promise my next installment will be more upbeat! [Ed note: If you would like to watch Meat, Jonas reports having seen a copy at Lost Weekend Video.]
Zach Cincotta is a vegan movie obsessive who, along with his vegan brother, discusses his thoughts on every movie he watches at Le Souvenir d’un avenir. When he’s not slowly burning out his projector bulb, Zach is an entertainment and business attorney representing awesome bands, record labels, and other small businesses. His previous movie reviews for Vegansaurus can be found here, you can contact him here, and follow him on Twitter here. Phew.
Sweet Justice, the Eat Real Festival, ending the veg vs. omnivore wars, dairy cow tragedy, shark fin soup in the city AND MORE: the Link-o-rama! »
Tonight! is Sweet Justice, “a benefit for the AETA 4.” A reminder lesson: The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was introduced in 2006 by California’s own evil betrayer, Senator Dianne “fuck your civil rights” Feinstein. The AETA 4 are activists who were allegedly involved in protests against the University of California’s animal-testing policies; in February, the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI arrested them on charges of “terrorist activities” under the new terms of the AETA. You know, people have taken loaded guns—semi-automatic weapons, even!—to presidential appearances this summer; what kind of agenda do the JTTF/FBI have here, bringing vague “terrorism” charges against animal rights activists? Obviously you must go to the benefit. Our pals Sugar Beat Sweets and Violet Sweet Shoppe will be there with their delicious baked goods! Go to 1884 Market St. at 8 p.m.; entry/donation is on a $5 to $20 sliding scale.
Also starting tonight at Jack London Square in Oakland is the second annual Eat Real Festival. Admission is free (hooray!), and they have all kinds of entertainment planned, as well as a full-on farmers’ market and a beer “shed,” which somehow sounds less tacky than a garden despite the icky connotations of the word “shed.” Admission to that shed costs extra. Don your finest eating clothes—ladies, maternity dresses provide a lot of extra room for stomach expansion!—and don’t miss this opportunity to dine outdoors on the cheap. Do avoid the butchery contest on Saturday though because, puke. Go go go, eat eat eat! Fight that nasty “unnaturally thin and anemic vegan” image! Fun times through Sunday, Aug. 30.
Here’s an interview with Robert Murray, director of The End of the Line, the documentary about overfishing that ought to put an end to a lot of that bullshit pescatarianism. Remember? You saw it back in June at the Red Vic.
Serious Eats has a great piece on calling a truce between omnivore foodies and vegans/vegetarians. Obviously, we all know that loving food and being vegetarian/vegan are not mutually exclusive, but many people still don’t quite get it.
If you have $80, you can order Japanese-invented molds for growing heart- or star-shaped cucumbers! Hooray! It works like this. Simple, right? Seems like you could grow other tubular fruits and vegetables—zucchini!—in these molds too, and eat a meal comprising nothing but hearts and stars, and die of kawaii. If you don’t want to buy them for $80, you can visit Tokyo and buy them for ¥300, which while more expensive would definitely be more fun. (source: Geekologie)
Dairy cows in Switzerland are falling, or throwing themselves off the Alpine cliffs they live on, and no one knows why. It sounds like they live in paradise in comparison to the way dairy cows in the U.S. suffer, but who knows? All we can say for sure is that this is tragic, and we hope the cows’ caretakers (exploiters) solve the problem soon. Animals are not here for people to use as they like, no matter how delicious the food you can make from them may be. When was “it tastes good” ever a legitimate excuse for animal cruelty?
Let’s look at restaurant reviews in the Chronicle! Michael Bauer is quite fond of the new Plant Cafe, saying that “at times it feels as if meat is a reluctant interloper.” Agreed, Michael Bauer. More importantly, he praises “the way the restaurant incorporates vegan, raw and meat-based cuisines into a single menu,” meaning for vegans it is probably an excellent place for a compromise meal. Final selling point: the executive chef used to be the executive pastry chef at Millennium!
According to AnimalTourism.com, of 69 restaurants in San Francisco offering shark fin soup, only four are vegetarian. What the fuck, San Francisco? You can click here to send a message to your senators about how vile shark-finning is, and how according to AnimalTourism’s research San Francisco has the highest number of restaurants sering shark fin soup in the country, which is beyond appalling. Is this city’s reputation for veg-friendliness overrated?
These baked Thai corn fritters over at Vegan Dad seem like the perfect way to use up some of that (ORGANIC PLEASE GOD DON’T GIVE MONEY TO THOSE EVIL EVIL PEOPLE) corn!
It’s 30 minutes, and not especially graphic with regard to animal abuse.