While educated consumers may be aware of the lives that are lost for human consumption—both in food and the products we use—the vast majority of mainstream consumers are living in the dark. Many do not realize or think about the fact that we exploit animals daily through the clothing we wear, via animal-tested beauty and other products, and in the entertainment industry. While this would be a huge moral dilemma for many if directly confronted with the truth, millions of people don’t give it a second thought—we are rarely asked to. Vegan Mainstream recently had the chance to talk to documentary filmmaker Liz Marshall, who is currently working on a brand new animal rights documentary called The Ghosts In Our Machine. This character-driven film poses the moral question: Are animals property to be owned and used, or are animals sentient beings deserving of rights? Read on as VM writer Zoe Eisenberg dishes with Marshall on the idea behind The Ghosts In Our Machine.
Vegan Mainstream: The idea behind your documentary is completely heartbreaking—can you expand on the idea behind Ghosts in our Machine?
Liz Marshall: Most people have what Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary calls “cognitive dissonance.” They say they love animals, they name their pets and accept them as part of the family, they value wildlife, but they have little regard for or knowledge of the billions of animals used annually for human products—the ghosts in our machine.
It’s as if we grow up with blinders on, and when they come off, we then see the ghosts everywhere, and it can be overwhelming. When you first go vegan, you can suddenly become overwhelmed by awareness.
VM: What will the documentary say about societal norms? What myths will it overturn?
LM: I first went vegan after filming the story of a dairy cow rescued by Farm Sanctuary. You know, there is a myth in our culture that cows naturally produce milk for us to drink, and people are shocked when they learn the actual facts about the dairy industry. Most people don’t want to engage in animal cruelty, but it’s so built into our lifestyle, they don’t even realize.
We’re trying to raise awareness so that people want to learn, so that they want to know the facts. We’re trying to craft it so that it doesn’t shy away from the truth, but also appeals to a broad audience. My own awakening was really learning that farm animals are loving creatures with real characters—they are such individuals, just like our pets. We are so removed from our farm animals, so experiencing them in close range is mind blowing.
VM: What are you hoping to show through your film?
LM: We are aiming to cinematically illuminate the sentience of the ghosts in our machine. We want to give a face and a name to the billions of animals that are used as ingredients in all of our products. We want to build awareness but not make anyone feel guilty. There is no “Us vs. Them”. We have a real power once we are equipped with knowledge. It’s just a matter of educating the mainstream about these myths. Like any social movement, it takes time, education and awareness.
I’m a social issue film maker, and this is my first film about animal rights. In making it I have become so conscious of the fact that it’s a marginalized issue that needs to come into the light. That’s what we’re trying to do.
VM: How do you hope your viewers will react?
LM: There is a real delicate balance in shooting a film like this. We want to protect the integrity of the product so that it remains truthful, but when dealing with graphic images and the reality of these billions of ghosts, we want to express the situation without people wanting to immediately leave the theatre. As a filmmaker, I know that people love stories, so we’re using classic storytelling with animals as the main characters, shown as sentient beings and creatures of value. It’s a powerful approach. The movers and shakers in the animal rights community say that the animal rights movement is a social movement whose time has come. People are more and more intrigued and genuinely concerned.
If all goes according to plan, Marshall says, The Ghosts in Our Machine will be completed before Christmas. She hopes to enter it into the Sundance Film Festival, so it would be premiered in January 2013. However, the project is educating the public before the filming has even wrapped. The website just launched the Ghost Free Journey, a community-building initiative that shows two inspiring coaches gently helping volunteers embark on their vegan journeys. Anyone can sign up for the chance to be coached—participants are chosen through a random lottery. The series, sponsored by Lush Cosmetics and featured bimonthly on the GFJ blog, supports Marshall’s idea of educating those who are ready to learn. And luckily, more and more of the mainstream is ready to embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle. For more information on the project, check out Ghost Free Journey and Ghosts in Our Machine.