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International Animal Rights ConferenceInternational Animal Rights Conference

Thursday, 13.09.2012   18:30-19:50   Room B
The animal activist documentaries and the documentary tradition
Bianca Salles Dantas

The intention of this presentation is to reflect on several tendencies of animal activist documentary from the educational ethics on British documentary tradition. I manage to compare, though initially, its characteristics from the recognition by Grierson`s educational ethics approach and its influence on the animalist documentary field.

John Grierson`s systematic thought together with his deep conviction of a particular style and his meaningful work introduced in British scenario a distinguished kind of film in its purpose, in its style and in its function,which was called by himself as "documentary" in early 30`s. Indeed, he was the very first to establish a pattern for the documentary movie and to put it into practice. Plus, time and practices passed, the field enhanced; in short, other forms were developed insofar humankind has learned doubting of objective representations of reality.

Nowadays the different forms of film making documentary and the profusion of animal rights documentary allow us to look at this subject as a specific part in movie production. Therefore, it is necessary to point out the importance of film productions concerning animal rights on dissemination of ethical approach and moral consideration on the behalf of non-humans sentient living creatures with who we share Earth and also reflect on these issues: is the educational ethics documentary style (in which animal rights documentary production seems to be attached) the best contribution for animal cause? Looking at contemporary tendencies on documentary field, how could animal rights films develop aesthetically in order to increase the scope of individuals affected by animal rights ideas?

Animal rights documentary is a kind of picture that carries out the fierce proposition of displaying an ethical mission and reveals the social hidden truth about how humankind has been using non-human sentient creatures - as food, clothing, entertaining, companionship, in medical experiments, among other forms of exploitation - proposing debate, and several changes. This style of film, indeed, can be normally characterized as a picture which seeks for values in catharsis that is brought by images of horror, death and by images of grief and pain.

Regarding shooting, we find that the presence of the camera device changes the way individuals act before it. If a person performs when he or she is being observed by a camera, what could we conclude about an individual that does not know about its presence? Their actions would be free and clear of self-representation, since there is no awareness that their performances are being recorded? The way individuals behave in the private space is different from how they behave before the eyes of others? I suggest the answer is a resounding "yes", especially regarding animal slaughterhouses, which rarely authorize images to be taken.

The image of inflicted death by violent action occupies a particular space on the animal rights documentary representation, and it is included in the education ethics which aims the filmmaker. This type of image appears to be the most effective way of representing the animal exploitation and give visual perspective of it.

The use of a hidden camera is a common practice in this kind of film that carries the complaint in its interior, and the uniqueness of this picture resides in a power denial to the represented to represent themselves before the gaze of another, and also resides in the exclusive power and the presence of a silent filmmaker shooting events that was not supposed to be shot and the ability of the photographic medium to capture the course of events before the lens.

Besides that I suggest the conclusion that the representational expositive mode (NICHOLS, Representing Reality, 1991) of documentary is the most utilized kind of representational mode because it responds to the educational ethics of the animal activist filmmaker. I also wonder if this kind of film needs to have its techniques and methods matured in addition to the classic character documentary representation, beyond the boundaries of ethics education paradigm, and beyond abject representation of inflicted death.

  • AITKEN, Ian. The documentary film movement. An Anthology. Edinburgh, 1998.
  • NICHOLS, Bill. Representing Reality: issues and concepts in documentary. Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • RAMOS, Fernão Pessoa. Mas afinal... o que é mesmo documentário? São Paulo: SENAC, 2008.













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