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“Bold Native” — An Important Film About Freedom

At the beginning of Bold Native, the film’s protagonist, Charlie Cranehill, tells us (in voice-over) a great deal about himself in these few words: “We spend our lives saying, ‘No. Not me. Not my fight. Not my problem. Not tonight.’ What’s the difference between you and me? A few years ago, I became someone who said, ‘Yes. Me. My fight. My problem. Tonight.'”

A brief synopsis of Bold Native on the film’s official website describes the story thus: “Charlie Cranehill, an animal liberator wanted by the United States government for domestic terrorism, emerges from the underground to coordinate a nationwide action as his estranged CEO father tries to find him before the FBI does.”

Bold Native, a work of fiction by writer/director Denis Henry Hennelly, introduces us to people, like Charlie Cranehill, whose idealism compels them to action no matter the consequences. The film also introduces us to those who measure the value of non-human lives in dollars.

I describe the character of Charlie Cranehill as the film’s protagonist to point out that the antagonists in Bold Native — and in the real world — are those who profit from the torture and murder of animals.

Perhaps that’s why it’s been difficult for the filmmakers to find a major distributor for Bold Native.

In a recent interview with Hennelly and producer Casey Suchan, Hennelly said, “Casey and I had made a number of documentaries prior to making Bold Native, and we had premiered and played at, you know, big festivals around the world — Tribeca, Edinburgh, etc. — and, you know, we assumed, having been to those festivals and having seen the sort of quality of fiction films that was at them, we felt pretty confident that we’d be able to get in, to at least some of them, Bold Native. But, unfortunately, we had a really difficult time doing that. And, at a certain point, it became clear to me that, like, this was a question of content.”

It’s also a question of fear.

“Certainly, when we were working on the movie, one thing that we noticed was that there was a lot of rejection of the Animal Liberation Front (by the likes of) mainstream animal-rights groups because of a fear of this word ‘terrorist.’ And  … it does seem to me like there’s much less of that now from within — people who, you know, are already animal-rights supporters …”

There’s a piece of dialogue in the film that, to me, provides a measure of the philosophical divide between those who place equal value on the lives of human and non-human animals and those who do not.

“You can’t commit violence against property,” Charlie says, explaining how his father, Richard Cranehill, and so many others rationalize the torture and murder of animals.

Hennelly said, “People want to have it both ways. You know, they want property destruction to be violence when it comes to buildings, but they don’t want it to be violence when it comes to sentient animals. And I think that it comes down to a desire to maintain one’s own status-quo lifestyle and the selfishness of that. … I think these people who continue to brand activists of all stripes as terrorists, they’re really just taking advantage of public fear and public empathy toward real victims of terrorism. And I think it’s the most disgusting kind of appropriation of language, because it’s done — it’s done with malice towards anybody who might want to change a system that these people are benefiting from.”

In the film, Richard Cranehill’s lawyers explain to him that his son faces charges of terrorism under the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,” legislation, we later learn, for which Richard’s firm (among many others) lobbied.

Talking about the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,” which, in 2006 — a little more than a year after a high-ranking FBI official told CNN that “the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement” — was signed into law by President George W. Bush, Suchan said, “I think the disturbing thing is that what we’re talking about are designer laws. And we’re talking about an agenda that the FBI pursues that’s really directed by agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, and (their) corporate interests … And, at the end of the day, when you threaten the pockets of big business in this country, they’ll buy legislation to call what you’re doing terrorism.”

In Bold Native, the character of Charlie Cranehill isn’t worried about being branded a terrorist, and he’s not particularly worried about what might happen should the FBI catch up with him. His only interest is providing answers to this series of questions, which he asks (in voice-over) at the beginning of the film: “What is freedom? Are we born free, or do we earn it? And if you deny freedom to the quiet ones, those who have no voice, can you be free yourself, or are you caged by your own lack of compassion?”

Visit to learn more about the film, which is currently available for purchase in DVD format — at a 20 percent discount with free shipping — at The film is also available for download through iTunes. I’d encourage you to add the film to your Netflix queue. The more people who do so, the more likely Netflix will make the film available as a “watch instantly” title.

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