In the fall of 2014, conditions arose that threw me out of my conventional life, job, and home on to the road full time with cameras, a laptop, my dog Henry and little else.
I was nearing fifty, and the filmmaking path I had wanted and imagined looked very different from the compromise in its place.
The key to my release was unexpected. An astronomical raise in my rent collided with a shrinking income, which resulted my selling everything I owned, giving up my apartment, and letting go of what dwindling employment I had left in exchange for a leap of faith. In between periods of panic, I felt the dawning of liberation and glee; I was finally making a go at my chosen life instead of clinging to the supposedly safe options that were not so safe after all.
For years leading up to this time I had a growing preoccupation in societal systems, which seemed to both support and thwart my goals. I had also been volunteering on local farms and ranches and participating as a novice inside the competitive horse world. I began to see a parallel between my experiences in a hierarchical society and the predicament of animals, who are inevitably living as a means to someone else’s end. In my case, the ends had belonged to employers and landlords. In the case of animals, even in the most caring ranching, farming or entertainment environments, the ends that I saw unsettled my conscience and surfaced more questions about the ways and reasons we draw lines.
As 2015 approached, I conceived of a project I could set up online that would house interviews with people from around the country who might have insights from personal experience about these questions. I called it the Moments Of Truth Project, and sent out my first letters asking writers and authorities on the subject of animal concerns if they might participate with an interview. The writer James McWilliams, bioethicist and author Peter Singer, religious scholar and author Carol Adams, neurologist and public health specialist Aysha Akhtar, conservationist Carl Safina and sanctuary founders Gene Baur, Jenny Brown and Kim Sturla were among the many I wrote who accepted. My Jeep was packed with camping equipment, cameras, a tripod and Henry, and when the first few people responded with a yes, we set off on what became a two-year adventure of constant filming around the country.
Along with people who defend animal from use, I contacted people who work in animal industries. Since my question focuses on whether we can justify using animals for science, food and entertainment under any circumstances, not just under improved circumstances, I limited my queries to people who would be considered the best and most humane in their field. Examples include Joel Salatin, who came on board as one of the most respected farmers in America following his appearance in Food Inc. and Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. And Dr. John Gluck, a former animal researcher who ran a primate lab, joined the project. And Sandy Bonelli, a cutting horse Futurity champion also offered her voice of experience.
In preparation I had studied the subject beyond my own experiences on farms and ranches and around stables. I learned more about the pervasive experience for animals in laboratories, and for ocean and terrestrial wildlife. I absorbed the reality that other species exist for most of us as undifferentiated groupings rather than individuals. They move through our society’s industrial and political machines like blank widgets, creating consumer products out of a complex of suffering and disconnect so massive that I could hardly believe I had lived through four decades without pausing to question what leads up to creating the products I consume.
In terms of the filmmaking that lay ahead, I hoped to compensate for filming solo using best available equipment with above average luck and conversations. I was looking for a mixture of planned interviews and spontaneous encounters, and I wanted to follow people in their environments when possible, saving sit-down interviews for material that gave background to the subjects who are working in animal industries. I used a DSLR for the static interviews and when I was mobile I used a mixture of Canon XF100 and GoPro. Whenever possible I wired people with a lavaliere microphone and recorded sound on a hand recorder, but many times I went from zero to action with no in between, and some of my favorite moments in the film were captured that way.
My lifelong passion is filmmaking. As a child and through my teens I inhaled movies, made short Super 8s, and I wrote screenplays about everyday life. I was already a documentarian at heart, interested in seeing what is really going on beneath the surface of the mundane moments of life. In 2005 I published a memoir called Borderlines with Random House that circles these themes as well; all is not what it seems, and lines, while comforting, are often illusions.
After I earned a Masters in Media Studies from the New School in New York City, I was in my twenties picturing a film career on the near horizon. The ensuing decades of work in other capacities suggested that this shiny career had been a shimmering mirage. Now, almost thirty years later, the content of those years and my capacities as a filmmaker have met a subject of universal concern. MOMENTS OF TRUTH is a portrait that meeting.