According to The Ghosts in our Machine, it’s easier for photographer Jo-Anne McArthur to go unseen in factory farms than it is to be seen in major publications.
McArthur has dedicated her life to capturing the life of unkempt animals through her lens to spread the word of inhumane treatment aimed towards animals to garner material goods. Whether she’s tagging along with other passionate individuals or executing guerrilla missions as we saw some do in the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove, Jo-Anne will stop at nothing – which has caused her distress outside her work. It’s hard not to when you’re constantly witnessing innocent animals in awful conditions.
Her photos may speak volumes, but the media refuses to use her work either because the images are too graphic and break outside their PG-13 guidelines or because the issue isn’t major enough to generate much interest – which can easily transfer to “the issue is easy to ignore”.
The Ghosts in our Machine is a prime example of the saying “if you want something done right, you got to do it yourself”. In this case however, MacArthur does it with the help of a book editor, a camera crew, a song specially performed by Radiohead, and Liz Marshall – a director/producer who is just as devoted as Jo-Anne.
The documentary bounces around a lot from issue to issue, but doesn’t find itself becoming unfocused because each argument is backed up with a significant amount of information. MacArthur and Marshall tackle fur factories, the unfairness of dairy farms, the heartbreak of animal testing and other unsettling processes that lead to your dinner plate.
The Ghosts in our Machine doesn’t feel heavy-handed when it’s informing moviegoers about these lesser looked at animal processes, but there are moments in the documentary that feel as if McArthur and Marshall have an ulterior motive which is showing how easy and convenient it is to live a vegan lifestyle. They never overly glamorize veganism and outright say that everyone should be swaying away from animal products but its hard not to raise an eyebrow when MacArthur’s healthy meals are being perfectly lit and presented. There are too many shots of sautéed veggies to not ignore this.
But, as a doc that wants to educate viewers on statistics that are generally ignored or swept under the carpet, it’s a worthwhile watch that packs a memorable emotional punch. MacArthur’s photos are upsetting but equally breathtaking and gorgeous in their own ways. The same can be said about how Marshall and her team of cinematographers have shot this documentary in a way that could fool anyone into thinking Steven Sodebergh had helmed – or at least produced – this impacting film.
The Ghosts in our Machine also comes through on its promise to humanize animals and show us these creatures feel and react the same as us. MacArthur and Marshall manage to dodge a conventional hippy-dippy attitude during this conveyance through candid shots of animals going about their usual routine. They don’t have to do much selling or convincing to show us this side of their argument because of this artful yet simple display of unity.
So, Jo-Anne MacArthur and Liz Marshall: Mission Accomplished! I wish you all the best with furthering your careers with trying to save the world.
Catch The Ghosts in our Machine at:
Wednesday, May 1 at 11:00 a.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, May 4 at 11:00 a.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Visit the official Hot Docs webpage here!
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