Seven years ago, I never dreamed I would be directing and producing a film—much less, about animal rights. The lives of animals were about the furthest thing from my own personal radar. But in 2003, while directing my TV series—“Mad as Hell TV!”—I met someone who would change my focus forever. Matt Rossell worked undercover for two years at a research facility that tested on rhesus monkeys. The video he shared shocked me. My eyes were now wide open—and nagged by the question of how our society can do this to other sentient beings—I began to investigate how animals are routinely brutalized for food, fashion and entertainment—and in the name of science. It was my passion to get an answer to this question that gave me the courage or boldness to direct and produce my first feature film.
My strategy for making “From Suffering to Satori” was straightforward. Go and interview every authority on animal rights and every animal industry official who would talk to me. I succeeded with many, but others involved in animal industries declined to be interviewed for this film. My goal was to remain neutral, in order to give all sides a fair shot at presenting their views. I think that many who do use animals to make their products or to sell tickets to their entertainment venues honestly believe they are not harming animals. When I discovered just how much harm was actually being inflicted,I was forcibly propelled into the role of advocacy for their welfare. I, however, did not become an animal rights activist and refrained from becoming involved in any animal rights organizations. That is, until the production was wrapped and in the can. Now, I do advocate in particular for elephants, whose long lives and long memories are liabilities in confinement.
This film would probably not exist without the generous support of many friends and colleagues. Among them, the late Sid Jones, who scored the film, wrote the instrumental piece, “Liberation Waltz,” that worked perfectly to emphasize the theme of finding a new way of seeing, a new way of relating to all creatures who share this planet with us. Cinematographer Frank Mahoney helped to evoke the often lonely and isolated experience of bull elephants. Still Photographer Ninette Jones captured the haunting image of Packy, the Oregon Zoo's star elephant, and the playful character of sea lions. Camera operators and audio techs in LA, NY and Portland all worked hard to bring the vision of the film to fruition.
When I started weaving the elements of the interviews together with my editing team of Cat and Sid Jones, I found a unifying theme of disconnect, that is endemic to our society and, at the same time, a longing to connect with all life. It is a strange dichotomy that may have no philosophical solution. But in the end, I came to believe that everyone, no matter where they stand on animal rights, can make a difference in the lives of animals. Even a small step towards compassion can have a huge impact on an animal's life. And that is a step worth taking.