Back in the 1950's and 1960's my father was a traveling salesman for a large meat packing company that has since merged into the largest international pork producer in the world. I didn't question why meat was the main course for every meal. And even though I rebelled against everything else my parents taught me, I stuck with the basic meat and potatoes diet for years after growing up and leaving home.
Flash forward to the 1970's when the term “health nut” was born and I took red meat off the table. Three decades later, I made the final leap to become totally meat-free. Meanwhile, I often pretended to be a vegetarian. I was being what we now call PC.
I didn't like seeing the big cats pace in their cages, so after a few trips I stopped going to zoos. And I didn't really enjoy circuses, the clowns were more scary than funny. Beyond that, I never thought about what the lives of animals are like behind the scenes. What happens when the visitors go home and the animals are locked in their cages at night? Who thinks of that? No one that I knew anyway.
And then, much later, I met someone who would turn my head totally around. All my assumptions came tumbling down as I started asking myself some hard questions. Is animal testing really necessary? Is the harm inflicted worth it? How do foxes, kept in the bitter cold all winter to grow their fur thicker and then are killed and stripped of their skin feel about that? How does an elephant who is one of the most intelligent and far roaming creatures on earth survive in the tiny zoo enclosure? How do ocean dwelling orcas and dolphins endure marine mammal parks where they are crowded into tanks the size of swimming pools?
The more I researched, the more troubled I became. How can humans, who have achieved such wonders continue to treat the least powerful species with such cruelty or as in my case, such disregard?
“From Suffering to Satori” is my journey to answer that question. The decision to make the film was the easy part. Now came the big challenges. How do I ramp up my technical skills, to make them worthy of the big screen? The learning curve was steep but I did have a head start from all my years producing television shows.
My strategy was to go out and interview everyone I could on either side of the animal rights debate, and in the process I ran into some difficult recording situations. Chris DeRose, founder of Last Chance for Animals, has a small office located directly above one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles, so the audio was far from ideal. Luckily, Chris' schedule allowed me to later re-interview him in a quiet setting. I often had to find creative places—a friend's house, a city park replete with traffic noise, the outside corral of a famous horse trainer, a kennel full of boisterous barking dogs and inside a noisy downtown Manhattan humane society where the cats and dogs were allowed freedom to roam. My camera person was assailed by cats who were scratching at her heels while we recorded and another cat jumped into the frame repeatedly. My camera crews were very helpful in making the best of these obstacles.
In the process I met some amazing activists. I got to see first-hand how a horse “whisperer” tames a wild and rambunctious horse with a few hand gestures. I heard the daring tale of escape from a gun-toting Class B dealer and was stunned to learn of the harassment and imprisonment that often accompany those who work for animal freedom. I also met some who work for animal industries who were trying to do what they could to make life better for the animals in their care. I made my first trip to a dairy and was taken aback by the cruelty that often goes unrecognized. And I witnessed first-hand the healing power of animals for those who are sick, elderly or just lonely.
I discovered that there are hot beds of animal activism throughout the nation, and I attempted to reach as many activists as possible in the seven years that it took to produce the film. During that time, my two-man crew filmed in Oregon (Portland, Silverton and Junction City), California (San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Santa Barbara) and in New York City. Despite the mind-boggling number of ways that I discovered that animals are routinely abused, it was encouraging to see and meet so many dedicated activists fighting to change the way they are treated.
A challenge that I hadn't foreseen was in 2011 when my friend Sid, who wrote the score for the film and helped to edit it, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He was able to finish the score before he died, though Sid, being a perfectionist about his music, wanted to work with it some more, maybe add some percussion. But his illness and then death one year later, prevented him from exploring that.
Sid was planning to do the post audio production on the film so his death was not only a huge personal loss, but also forced me to dramatically upgrade my audio production knowledge. Through trial and lots of error, I forged ahead with the able assistance of technical advisor Frank Mahoney and audio specialist PC Peri.
In the end, I found that unlike so many seemingly intractable problems that we face, such as racism and war, to make a change in the lives of animals is relatively easy. Though in my case, it took half a century to make it. Once I saw just how simple and how profound a difference making that change could be, I made it in an instant.