I spoke last night with Carlie Jackson, the executive producer of a new documentary TV series called Project Earth, which will introduce us to animal-rights and environmental activists who’ll explain “what they are doing for the earth and why they are doing it,” according to the series’ website. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, an audio recording of which is available here:
DB: I’m talking with Carlie Jackson, the New Zealand-based executive producer of Project Earth, a new documentary TV series that will introduce us to animal-rights and environmental activists who’ll explain “what they are doing for the earth and why they are doing it.”
So, Carlie, in the United States, a 2006 federal law called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, whose precursor was the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, is being challenged by animal-rights activists who believe, quite appropriately, that the legislation is unconstitutional.
Rachel Meeropol, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the activists, was quoted by The Los Angeles Times as saying: “The law criminalizes causing damage or loss to the real or personal property of an animal enterprise. … Because those terms aren’t defined, you have to take them at their common usage. And under common usage, ‘personal property’ includes money, includes profits. So that means that the acts can fairly be read to criminalize anyone who causes a business to lose profits. Activists from any social movements could be subject to prosecution as terrorists if their advocacy, if their lawful protest, affects the bottom line of a business.”
Have you run into any difficulties, legal or with regard to sponsorship or potential broadcast platforms, as you’ve begun to develop the series? And what’s the political/legal climate in New Zealand in this context — for you and for animal-rights activists?
CJ: I believe New Zealand is about to be in for a shock and an awakening when Project Earth 2012 hits the airwaves later this year.
Yes, we have run into all the road blocks you can imagine with sponsorship. Animal-rights activism in New Zealand is light-years behind the courageous and bold approach many activists are taking around the world. Can you imagine with a population of four million, almost half of whom are farmers, how repressed people generally are on this? New Zealand’s being an economy that relies on the export of meat and dairy products, tell a “Kiwi” that you’re an animal-rights activist, let alone a vegan, and you will be shunned by society.
This country is only just starting to wake up on the animal-rights front, so the law in this regard hasn’t had a chance to be fully tested. People are free to protest here without being arrested – unless of course for causing property damage, committing acts of violence, etc. – but people cannot be prosecuted on the basis of financial implications that any negative publicity may bring to a company.
Broadcast-wise, TVNZ has broadcast the brilliant works of the animal-rights group SAFE, which has fully exposed the suffering of factory-farmed animals, caged hens, etc.
The very first episode we are planning to film here in New Zealand, on the New Zealand dairy cow, is proving to be the most difficult to obtain sponsorship for here in New Zealand, because people will protect the dairy industry like they’d protect a child. It is already making people very nervous here.
Many of the experts I have been in contact with for interviews have declined because of fear of upsetting Dairy New Zealand, New Zealand dairy farmers, Fonterra, and various research companies. I have already been told by a staff member at DairyNZ that our filming will be viewed by that organization as highly suspicious activity. We want to show a new respect for the New Zealand dairy cow, question the ethical side of inducing and the pharmaceuticals used, reveal new information about the animals’ emotional intelligence, and advocate for new organic practices.
Sponsors who have backed out include veterinarians in New Zealand, in particular a research company for DairyNZ, Cognosco, which went from being very interested to demanding that details about the company be taken off our Project Earth website; DairyNZ, which stated they would not be involved in discussing the ethical side of animal rights whatsoever, particularly with regard to inductions of pregnant cows, and would only comment on welfare standards; Air New Zealand, which had sponsored a series I did for a show called Generation-Why – for which an episode about animal rights was filmed – backed out on supporting Project Earth.
With guarantees from three networks, getting Project Earth broadcast does not look to be a problem here in New Zealand, on the national platform, SKY, and regional TV stations. The interesting thing will be whether TVNZ is willing and brave enough to screen the series during prime time. We’ll find this out within the next few weeks.
DB: A film like Denis Henry Hennelly’s Bold Native does a wonderful job of describing the American political/legal climate in which animal-rights activists are operating. Hennelly told me that he and producer Casey Suchan have had numerous documentaries screened at major film festivals, but haven’t had the same success with their fiction film Bold Native. Hennelly told me that “at a certain point, it became clear to me that, like, this was a question of content.” As you work to share Project Earth 2012 with as global an audience as possible, have you encountered any such content-related resistance (from potential broadcast platforms, sponsors, distributors, etc.)?
One challenge many artists face in dealing with this subject matter is reaching a significant, mainstream audience beyond the proverbial choir. How are you approaching that challenge?
CJ: Strategically. A challenge, yes. This is possibly one of my/our personal challenges – with being a vegan at the core of it all and needing to maintain a neutral position during the filming … a position I still cannot promise I can keep, even while filming. The great quote “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim” is one that is close to my heart.
Our vision and overall approach for this series is to be courageous and bold, presenting the facts, engaging the viewers with elements of social experimentation in some of the episodes, and also having a live studio audience for the ending of each episode, making it highly interactive … and giving us a strong chance to hit the mainstream channels.
I have also teamed with co-producer Kym Staton (based in Sydney, Australia), who brings amazing passion and a strong sense of balance to the overall approach. Our plan is for global broadcast, particularly targeting the mainstream channels.
I’ve learned from previous filming that shock factor doesn’t always work effectively, yet in the same breath, neither does the softly, softly approach. So, we intend to be bold, gutsy, and powerful in our approach, but in the most respectful way possible. We want to bring the viewers with us, and not drive them away.
“Be the change” is the driving force of the series and an inspiration we hope will become infectious.
DB: What are your thoughts about the politics so many advocacy organizations are required to practice – and the costs and implications of doing so – in order to secure government funding?
CJ: I admire hugely the dedicated actions of these groups and individuals, having to stand strong in the face of ignorance and the apathy of many people, and politics.
I think governments worldwide need to step up their support and funding of incredibly dedicated advocacy organizations, from animal- and environmental-rights groups to human-rights groups. When governments as well as the masses understand that human liberation equals animal liberation, we will hopefully start seeing some major change.
The biggest thing I have come up against in this area is the number of people, broadcasters, and sponsors saying, “What about human rights? We are way more important than the animals.”
Oh my … how bad is the human ego? We also intend to bring human-rights issues into Project Earth as more sponsors look to come on board. Do people not see that all these elements are completely interconnected? Our survival and human rights depend on all of these elements.
DB: Where are you scheduled to film and with whom? Will the series include any “participatory” element? That is, what are some of the compelling ways you plan to document what some activists are doing to make the earth a better place for all species?
CJ: The first episode will be filmed here in New Zealand, which will no doubt threaten the status quo thinking of farmers here. We plan to approach factory farms here, to see how willing they are to let us in and what they may have to hide.
However, we plan to deliver the message respectfully, leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusions and become actively involved in sharing feedback via social media and the discussion forum we plan to film at the end of each episode with a live studio audience.
We plan to get as up close and personal as possible with activists across the span, and to get a very strong sense of all that they deal with, and we hope to actually get footage of them in action, whether protesting against the fur industry, saving dolphins, children, or monkeys from their cages.
At this stage, we plan to film in New Zealand in March and Australia in April, and we very much hope to film in the United States this coming June, as the passion of Americans is coming through the strongest on this.
DB: You mentioned featuring “radical” individuals and groups. Can you share any names?
CJ: Yes, I am excited to. To be filming with some of my biggest personal heroes within the movement will be an honor and a major inspiration.
We have had huge interest in the United States and would love to welcome the participation of more radical individuals or groups who are boldly advocating for change on every level, from environmental issues to human and animal rights.
In the United States we hope to film with Anthony Damiano of the Alliance for Earth, Life, Liberty, and Advocation; Dr. Steve Best, a respected professor who has been banned from the UK and is considered a terrorist for his revolutionary approach to animal liberation and nevertheless remains one of my heroes for doing powerful things for the movement, which he (like many of us) believes has become too passive in its approach; and a group of vegan veterinarians including Randall Cannon (based in Florida) and others from the UK and around the world who plan to meet in Florida in June of this year. All of this is contingent on us securing sponsorship for the filming in the United States.
In Australia, we plan to film with Kym Staton, who is the co-producer of Project Earth and a vegan triathlete advocating for a healthy lifestyle through food nutrition. We’re starting to see a strong interest for change in education and aboriginal rights, so this looks to become quite a revolutionary vehicle for advocacy groups to have their voices heard.
We would love to hear from any other groups and individuals who feel they are fighting injustice.
DB: You also mentioned growing up on a dairy farm and seeing things that motivate you to work toward change and a better earth. I recently spoke with Ethan Brown, the founder of Savage River Farms, a company that’s developing a line of plant-based (soy- and pea-protein-based) meat substitutes, the first of which will be introduced by Whole Foods Market this quarter. Ethan argues that there is no longer a sound, objective argument for eating animals and yet the defense of eating animals remains strong. Ethan also cited Albert Schweitzer in pointing out that man’s decisions about which animals to kill and which to cuddle are entirely arbitrary. Along these lines, many people turn away from slaughterhouse images (for example), not wanting, I suppose, to witness the horrors they support and contribute to on a daily basis. Sport hunters, I’ve found, defend to the last their claim to dominion over other species. Like hunting, bullfighting is defended (insultingly) as a “cultural” tradition, circuses defend their exploitation of animals for entertainment by claiming that no harm is done to the animals, and zoos claim to be educating people about the animals they’ve forced into captivity. The common denominator here is, of course, profit – which is supplied by people who don’t see, or refuse to accept, the exploitation, torture, and/or murder of animals without contextual rationalization. You indicated in an e-mail that Project Earth 2012 will explore what some activists are doing to make the world a better place for all species and why they’re doing what they’re doing. Is part of the why that so many others are not doing anything or enough? I think a lot about why so many people don’t see what can be aptly described as the callous, sadistic, and destructive arrogance of mankind. So how do we get to this why?
CJ: Yes, I hear you. The why is the driving force of the series. Why the world remains so apathetic in the face of so much suffering while others so passionately, and without second guessing it, go forward to change things.
I believe that at the core of every activist and advocacy group, a severe frustration with the system has ignited a passion.
I think it would be fair to say that most of us, as activists, have had some fundamental experience where we have witnessed the suffering of an innocent animal or person and decided that we cannot remain passive and must actively do something about it.
I grew up seeing induced calves shot in the head in front of their grieving mothers, bright-eyed trusting calves thrown on the backs of trucks bound for slaughter because they were no longer “of use.” And the same people who commit these acts would go off to church to pray.
I felt something snap inside me when a beautiful mother cow was dying with her head in my lap. In that moment, I felt my world change forever … I knew things would never be the same for me.
Anyone who has seen such injustice knows the feeling of being unable to remain passive, a feeling that life itself seems to hold you under arrest and call you to action.
We hope that Project Earth will become a revolutionary vehicle through which activists can unite for powerful change and viewers are left asking themselves, “What can I do, and how can I contribute to this change?”
Standing idly by and remaining detached is, in my view, the most evil thing we can do. We owe it to our planet and our fellow earthlings to finally stand up, speak out, and take action.
DB: So when will Project Earth 2012 air and on what broadcast platforms? How have potential partners in other countries responded to the series?
CJ: So far, broadcast is only confirmed for New Zealand, with a high possibility of broadcast in Australia and Papa New Guinea. And we hope very much that the United States will come on board. We of course will make the series available online, via YouTube and other social networks, so that it’s available for all to see.
There seems to be a certain psychology to getting the bigger, prime-time networks to listen up. Here in New Zealand, once they’ve heard that a nationwide platform, regional channels, and one in Papa New Guinea have expressed interest in broadcasting Project Earth, other networks have become curious.
The most passion so far has come from Americans and Australians. In fact, more so than here in New Zealand, which is why I believe New Zealand needs the guidance of countries that are already boldly fighting various injustices.
We hope with the level of interest coming in from the United States and Australia that broadcasters will want to air this series to show the dedicated actions of their citizenry.
DB: Talk, if you would, about the Concert for Project Earth.
CJ: We very much want to see this come to life, and we welcome musicians who are willing to be part of this to help fund-raise for Project Earth 2012.
We welcome musicians who strongly advocate for change, whether political or with regard to human/animal/environmental issues, through their music.
My co-producer, Kym Staton, is also a musician, and he is organizing this to take place at the Sydney Opera House. So this is a big shout out to musicians who might want to get in touch with Kym on this. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Carlie and her team are scheduled to begin filming for Project Earth this month. The series will be broadcast in New Zealand on SKY and on regional networks TV Central and TV Rotorua. While viewers beyond those areas will be able to watch Project Earth online, networks in the United States and elsewhere should be encouraged to broadcast the series. Visit projectearth2012.com for more details and information about how to get involved.