Starting an exclusive run at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto from Indiecan Entertainment is the highly acclaimed documentary that played at this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival, The Ghosts in our Machine. The film takes a compassionate look at animals and the people who care for them and strive to protest for their well-being and awareness. But the film also does not commit the mistakes that so many of its contemporaries in becoming too heavy handed and forceful in an attempt to drive the message home.
The Ghosts in our Machine
Directed by Liz Marshall
Marshall directs The Ghosts in our Machine through the heart and lens of acclaimed animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, and shines a cinematic light on the animals we don’t easily acknowledge. The film gently reveals a stark reality hidden from our view: the “ghosts” are commodities within the machine of our modern world. Over the course of a year, Marshall follows McArthur as she photographs several animal stories in parts of Canada, the U.S. and in Europe. Each story is a window into global animal industries: Food, Fashion, Entertainment and Research. All part of an epic photo project called We Animals, now in its 15th year and shot all over the globe, McArthur has documented the lives of animals with heart-breaking empathic vividness and professionalism.
By focusing on McArthur and not just examining the subject as a whole, Marshall has made a film which is a touching and loving tribute to one woman’s passion and work. The film endears its lead to the audience early on and makes them willing participants on her photographic odyssey as she travels from illegal mink farms, a sanctuary in upstate New York, protesting in Toronto and a family that rescued and medical research dog and who a looking to adopt another. Through all of these situations, McArthur becomes attached to the animals she meets and brings them to life through her photographs.
Though the film clearly embraces a vegan by choice lifestyle and does try to persuade its audience to at least listen to their argument, the slaughter house footage being the most effective footage, the film does not attempt to alienate the non-vegan crowd watching the film. Many films attempt to talk down to non-vegans in their attempts to `convert` them, getting real aggressive in some cases as they use a berating shock and awe campaign instead, but The Ghosts in our Machine does not do this at all. As McArthur herself states, as much as she wants to be freeing the animals it will not do anything unless the systems and procedures change, so she documents in hopes that her evidence can save future generations. Director Marshall uses this as a jumping off point and establishes the documentary in the same style.
Engaging, heart-warming and touching, The Ghosts in our Machine does a solid job at documenting and capturing the many animal loves of McArthur and her camera. The film can appeal to both the militant animal rights activist and simple cinema lovers alike, who may still go grab a hamburger or hot dog after the movie is over, but they may also just opt to go with the salad instead.
3 ½ out of 5
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