It’s been a few days since I first saw, and then co-awarded, Matthew Galkin’s documentary I Am An Animal: the Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA at the Hamptons Film Festival. The doc is quite good, and will exist in a very small window between last week’s premiere and next month’s HBO broadcast. In his Q&A, Galkin commented that the Hamptons will be the film’s only festival play scheduled. Which is too bad, because this is a doc that could earn more acclaim and exposure throughout the circuit.
That aside, I still can’t shake the doc. Speaking for myself, but I think my co-jurors would agree, I’m not a big PETA supporter. I actually can sort of take them or leave them, depending on the day. And that’s why this doc portrait of the animal rights organization is so compelling. But, of course, audiences will alternate between attracted and repulsed by some of the film’s content. During that same Q&A, an audience member asked Galkin why he didn’t include more footage of animal abuse (primarily captured during PETA video investigations). At this question, I let out an audible groan, because the film doesn’t need more of this footage. And, it doesn’t need less. Galkin and his team found the right balance. That said, prepare to look away during the film, if you’re especially sensitive to graphic images.
But what may stick with you even more than the haunting, sad images… are the questions about PETA’s practices. I Am An Animal is not a commercial for PETA. Far from it. It’s great nonfiction cinema. The doc showcases opinions from notable figures on every side of the argument, debating the merits of how PETA does what they do. During the Q&A, Ingrid Newkirk herself even commented that it’s worth posting someone like Alicia Silverstone naked (photo above right), if that attracts unsuspecting newcomers to the organization’s Web site. Really? In the film, PETA organizers justify that their very public and very rowdy stunts are often the only way to get corporate America to pay attention. Moments later, the other side argues that PETA often takes things too far. Who’s right in the end? Like any great documentary, I Am An Animal doesn’t give you concrete answers, it merely explores the questions and lets the audience feel informed enough to decide.
P.S. Check out this recent commentary by Best Week Ever, about the current PETA celeb photo campaign.