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Animals Film, The (1981)

Courtesy of Beyond The Frame Ltd

Main image of Animals Film, The (1981)
16mm, colour, 136 mins
DirectorsVictor Schonfeld
 Myriam Alaux
Production CompanySlick Pics Intl
ProducersVictor Schonfeld
 Myriam Alaux
ScriptVictor Schonfeld
PhotographyKevin Keating
MusicRobert Wyatt

Featuring: Julie Christie (narrator), Richard Ryder, Roger Ulrich, Lord Houghton, Peter Singer, Ray Kroc, David Wetton, Kenny Wagner, Sandy Dennis, Robin Howard

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Documentary about the abuse of animals in factory farming, sport and research.

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Broadcast without the interruption of commercial breaks - but with some controversial cuts - during what was only Channel Four's third night on air, this confrontational and harrowing detailing of the variety of ways in which animals are abused generated extensive front-page news and feature stories in the UK and overseas.

The Animals Film begins with a brilliantly edited montage of archive footage that sets out what would become a hugely controversial agenda: how and why modern and supposedly civilised societies exploit animals in the name of sport, food, fur, science and entertainment. The film skilfully incorporates numerous media images - of farming, pharmaceutical and other industry adverts and slogans; a Felix the Cat cartoon; found materials; public information films - and extensive and painstakingly researched interviews. These sequences expose fur-loving and wilfully ignorant members of the public; belligerent American farmers; scientists; animal rights campaigners; and an elderly advocate of hunting desperately clinging to the traditions she feels it represents.

Much of the film's material is necessarily shocking and delivers, just as it did in 1982, a visceral assault on the senses. Young chicks at a processing plant are de-beaked so that they don't peck at each other; many of the hatchlings perish from shock and their lifeless bodies are tossed to one side. Dogcatchers in a wintry New York City use lassoes to round up terrified strays, turned onto the streets as unwanted Christmas presents; they are transported in tiny cages to almost certain doom. We learn of the myriad ways in which they may be exterminated.

Many of the images were obtained clandestinely, at great risk to the filmmakers. These include the hunting of a stag, whose entrails are finally torn asunder by the hounds that have relentlessly pursued it, and the snatched, grainy images of an unattended dog kept alive on a laboratory slab with all of its internal organs exposed.

In a recent 'Director Statement', co-director Victor Schonfeld, who continues to crusade on behalf of animals and activists as a journalist for The Guardian, asserts that The Animals Film is more pertinent to today's world than when it was first released. As accurate as it is dispiriting, this observation also highlights the seismic influence of a work that acted as an inspiration to a new and increasingly politicised generation of animal rights activists and which should be viewed in times of complacency.

Jason Wood

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Video Clips
1. Opening montage (3:14)
2. Factory farming (3:15)
3. Poultry Breeding (2:00)
4. Lord Houghton and the RSPCA (3:29)
Christie, Julie (1941-)
Political Film