Life is life whatever form it takes

We no longer live in a time and place where we nurture and cultivate our own means of subsistence. With the realization of this fact, most people are unable to answer the seemingly simple question, where does your food come from and how is it produced?

An opportunity for enlightenment came to UVU on March 29 with the showing of “Earthlings,” a documentary film revealing the ugly truths about the human use of animals for food, fashion, pets, entertainment and medical research.

To introduce and follow up the film was director and UVU alumnus Shaun Monson, who felt compelled to create the documentary after filming for a series of public service announcements on spaying an neutering pets during which he witnessed animals being euthanized and their lifeless bodies thereafter being housed in a refrigerated room until it came time for them to be sent to a rendering plant.

“When I thought of animals in a refrigerator I thought of meat and I went home that night and laid in my bed and thought ‘this is bigger than a public service announcement,’” Monson said. “What could be more important? You don’t need to go make some stupid horror film or thriller or direct some commercial or action film … the allure of that began to diminish more and more until I just had no interest. I’ve got to do something about food, and then it became about entertainment, and what about clothing and medical testing? … “The idea of ‘Earthlings’ was born in that.”

What began as a brainchild slowly evolved into a serious project, but one critical aspect was missing: a narrator. Monson set his sights on lifelong vegan Joaquin Phoenix with little hope of attaining him, as he had just finished making “Gladiator.”

“Instead of getting a narrator with just a good voice, it would  be great to have someone who lived it their whole lives,” Monson said.

After initial difficulty making contact and six months of searching elsewhere, Monson tried again and was invited to send some footage.

“I sent over like 15 minutes of stuff I have edited and three days later I got a phone call saying ‘Joaquin wants to meet you.’ We looked at the footage together and Joaqin and I spent three hours talking about different issues. He agreed to do it before the meeting was even done, without having read the narration, and next thing we were in the studio recording,” Monson said.

It took about five years for Monson to piece together and edit footage shot on the streets, at animal shelters, pet stores, puppy mills, factory farms, slaughterhouses, leather and fur farms, sporting events, circuses and vivisection labs. Although he did some of his own filming, much of the footage was submitted anonymously to organizations such as The Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“A lot of these people are vegan and they go in these places and they’ve got to eat meat, they have to completely act like handlers and they are putting their lives at risk,” Monson said. “It is the only way we can get these cruelties documented, so these people are really the unsung heroes who are in there working and watching animals die all day long.”

While many find it difficult to view the 90-minute film because of its disturbing images, Monson emphasized that the least individuals could do is to witness the cruelties imposed upon animals, saying that “we must not refuse with our eyes what they must endure with their bodies.”

Although most of the film documents the day-to-day practices of various industries, there are a few isolated cases included which Monson felt were too meaningful to remove from the content. Referring to a scene donated from Turkey in which a dog is thrown into a trash compressor, Monson described his battle to keep the scene in the film despite protest from others involved.

“I said, ‘no we have to keep it because this sequence totally personifies life unworthy of life. They are literally throwing a live animal away in the garbage; we have to keep it,’” Monson explained. “I am so grateful that camera was there because in that supreme moment when the dog was about to be killed he or she was surrounded by all of these heartless faces, and the only thing that was there was a camera. When I look at that footage, when people look at the footage now, they watch that animal die with complete compassion and sympathy, and that is why I watch everything as it comes in.”

Winner of The Humanitarian Award from the San Diego Film Festival, Best Content Award from the Boston International Film Festival,  Best Documentary Film from the Artivist Film Festival and a PETA Proggy Award, “Earthlings” has gone on to inspire countless lives with the desire for animal empathy.

“Earthlings” is the first in a documentary trilogy, the second installment of which, to be titled “Unity,” will delve into the realm of perception. Rather than focusing on animal rights abuses, the film will center around the interconnectivity between humans, animals and the earth, for better and worse.

“I would have to say ‘Unity’ is more of an essay film. We have a thesis and we are putting it forward, this thesis of non-duality,” Monson said. “‘Unity’ is about apathy and empathy and why there is a border around our empathy,” Monson said.

This film will take a philosophical approach, with four segments focusing on body, mind, heart and soul. A common theme throughout the film is that “apathy cannot exist if there is a true understanding,” the idea that by realizing our mutuality, all forms of discrimination and domination would be done away with.

“What will it take for humanity to get to a point where we’re not critical about anything, nothing, because everything is in process, and you recognize that as being divine in a way?” Monson asked.
That is a profound question we must all internalize, because real change is made by ourselves within ourselves.

“Earthlings” is a starting point for anyone looking to be enlightened as to the realities of speciesism, but “Unity” will ask the deeper question of “why?” How can we claim to respect life, if we don’t honor it in every manifested form?

For further information regarding “Unity” visit www.UnityTheMovie.com

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