“All the darkness cannot extinguish the light of a single candle…”
This weekend, after another rewarding day at the farm, I came home and watched the new documentary about New York’s Farm Sanctuary, Peaceable Kingdom. Directed by Jenny Stein, who also directed The Witness, Peaceable Kingdom is one of the most touching and evocative documentaries I’ve seen in quite a long time.
Farm animals are often left out of animal rights discussions, which tend to center on companion animals and animals used for testing or research, but in recent years, the cruelty and pain behind the walls of factory farms has been exposed by videos like Meet Your Meat and books like Slaughterhouse. As informative as those resources are, and as necessary as they are for the animal rights movement, they’re definite downers (no pun intended). It’s hard to to come away from videos or books focused on farm animal suffering with any sort of optimism that one person can make a difference when millions of food production animals die every hour, many just because they’re the wrong sex.
Peaceable Kingdom is different in that the images of suffering and torture are juxtaposed with images of hope. It’s clear than when each year hundreds of millions of baby male chicks are discarded and left to die and a million veal calves are tortured and purposely malnourished, it can seem a pretty daunting task trying to make a dent in a industry whose cruelty runs so deep. But when those numbers and their accompanying images are followed by footage of Gene and Lorri Bauston rescuing downed cows, discarded chicks, and female chickens trapped in a tornado-ravaged hatchery, one can’t help but feel a sense of hope and inspiration. It’s this juxtaposition that makes Peaceable Kingdom so effective and moving.
Many of the painful images come from the Farm Sanctuary’s own library of rescue footage, as well as footage supplied by Compassion Over Killing, the Humane Society of the United States, and other similar organizations. It’s hard to describe the feelings that wash over you when you see humanity at its most disconnected and cruel. During one scene where baby calves are taken away from right in front of their mothers’ eyes, dragged away by a back leg, and then thrown into a crate and purposely made iron deficient, one will realize that this is why people are vegan.
While the Bauston’s Farm Sanctuary is the main focus of the documentary, we also hear from a number of others associated with the Farm Sanctuary and the animal rights movement. We hear from Howard “Mad Cowboy” Lyman, the cattle rancher-turned vegan activist, perhaps the most atypical vegan you’ll ever see. Also featured is Harold Brown, who tells the emotional story of growing up on a beef farm but having his life turned around after adopting and connecting with Snickers, a rescued male cow at the Farm Sanctuary. And, of course, there are the animals, who are given equal billing in the credits as their human counterparts.
Peaceable Kingdom serves a few purposes. First, it’s perfect for activists looking for new material, especially with the built-in “loops” section of the DVD that allows for easy display from a van or at an event. Second, it will open the eyes of the public who are fully unaware of how a cow becomes a hamburger. It does this in the most effective way possible: by showing, in a non-preachy fashion, what happens to food production animals in the factory farm system, how it got to be that way, and why it doesn’t have to continue. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Peaceable Kingdom helps remind those activists who are feeling burnt out that what they’re doing does matter and that despite all the suffering that continues, our efforts are touching the lives of many animals that would have otherwise died a horrible death on top of a pile of dead cows or buried under thousands of carcasses in a trash can.
Peaceable Kingdom runs 77 minutes and is available on DVD and VHS through Tribe of Heart‘s online store for $20. You can also buy “Gifts of Compassion,” copies of the video at a discounted rate that you pledge to donate to organizations or give away to friends.