In 2001, Jesse Power and Anthony Wenneker were arrested in Canada for torturing a cat to death and filming their criminal acts. Matthew Kaczorowski, who also participated in the torture, was apprehended in 2003.
Power and Wenneker tried to defend their torture of a cat by claiming they tortured the cat and filmed it as an artistic statement against animal cruelty. Its the sort of logic some activists appear comfortable with, such as PETA’s “we have to kill the animals to protect their rights” mentality, but courts rejected the argument and all three men were ultimately found guilty of animal cruelty. All three also received ridiculously short sentences for such a base, premeditated act of cruelty.
Enter filmmaker Zev Asher, who decided to make a documentary about the case. Asher interviewed Power, Wenneker, and Kaczorowski, along with animal rights activists, police, art gallery and others about the case. The actual video of the cat torture is not shown.
I have not seen the film, but the New York Times review of it noted,
”Casuistry” consists mainly of talking-head interviews — with animal rights advocates, art gallery owners and two of the three accused young men — intercut with news clips about the event, shots of Mr. Power’s disturbing artwork, and extreme close-ups of a variety of cats (all of whom, pet lovers will be relieved to know, remain alive and well throughout). The offending videotape is never seen, but the entire film is built around its absence. Periodically, the film returns to a written police account of the video, which scrolls up the screen, documenting the animal’s suffering blow by blow to the sound of ominous music.
Two of the cat’s assailants come off as bored, alienated and none-too-bright young men seeking a nihilistic thrill. The third, Mr. Power, is a more complex figure, an intelligent and well-spoken but possibly psychopathic art student who has long been obsessed with the death of animals (he once took a job in an abattoir, he says, to better understand the suffering of the animals he ate). Among the least sympathetic figures in the film are two local gallery owners who seem callow and pretentious as they refuse to judge Mr. Power for his actions. Though it clearly takes the position that the animal’s death was a crime, Mr. Asher’s film is likely to leave viewers eager to discuss the limits of artistic freedom and the extension of human rights to animals.
The Village Voice went further in its review, saying that the film makes unfavorable connections between what Power and company did to what medical researchers do.
And yet, for all that, animal rights activists have turned out to protest the film and demand that it be pulled from film festivals almost everywhere it appears.
For example, when the film was shown in Australia as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival in July, activists from Animal Active showed up to protest the film. Animal Active spokeswoman Rheya Linden told The Herald Sun that screening the film was irresponsible,
This film presents animal abuse voyeuristically to a general audience in the name of art and entertainment.
Similarly, when the film was shown last September at the Toronto Film Festival, activists also showed up to protest with Suzanne Lahaie of Freedom for Animals telling the BBC that the film should never be shown because it includes interviews with Power, Wenneker and Kaczorowski,
Shame on the international film festival for allowing this to go on.
When an e-mail was posted to AR-NEWS recently calling for activists to pepper James Hewison of the Melbourne International Film Festival with calls and e-mails to stop the showing of the film. It was left to Toronto Star columnist and animal activist Barry Kent McKay (who is often a voice of reason on AR-NEWS) to note that,
Many animal advocates who have seen the film feel it should be shown to the
public. It certainly does not in any way glorify the abuse, but rather,
exposes something that should be exposed. Actual torture is apparently not
on screen. It is seen by many to be a powerful indictment against animal
abuse, at most, and a stimulant to debate at least. Others, particularly
those who have not seen it, oppose it.
I have no view one way or the other, as I have not seen it.
What is interesting and telling, however, is just how many activists simply don’t want a film shown because they disagree with it, and often even though they haven’t even seen it.
Catcalls unheeded at movie screening. Herald Sun, July 25, 2005.
FILM REVIEW; A Self-Proclaimed Artist and an Inexplicable Act of Cruelty. Dana Stevens, The New York Times, April 27, 2005.
Fur flies over cat-killing film. The BBC, September 15, 2004.