My Top 5 Vegan/Animal Rights Documentaries

Since it is the end of the year and so many are making “top 5” lists, I felt compelled to make a few myself, starting with my top five vegan and/or animal rights themed documentaries. Watching documentaries such as A Cow at My Table and Meet Your Meat made me go vegetarian 10 years ago (and a year or two later, vegan). The power of film is not lost on me and I think it is imperative for many, not only to read about the stories of suffering, but to see the images that helped many of us to transition to this lifestyle. This list is not exclusively for films from 2012, but films, both new and old, that have really spoken to me throughout the years and ones that I regularly recommend to others. I love a good documentary, and those related to helping animals (both human and non-human), the environment, and our health score big points with me. In my selections, I hoped to hit on all or at least one of these issues.

Here are some of my favorites listed in no particular order.

1. The Witness – This is a Tribe of Heart documentary from fellow Ithacans, Jenny Stein and James LaVeck, about one man’s journey to a higher level of consciousness and empathy. This is a great film for those animal lovers who haven’t quite made the connection to the animal on one’s plate, or for anyone that loves a story of change and grassroots activism. The Witness tells the story of Eddie Lama, a regular blue-collar entrepreneur from the Bronx who decides to watch a potential love interest’s cat (even though he wasn’t particularly fond of animals). He starts to form a deep bond with the cat, and eventually has a change in perception of all animals. I remember when I first saw the film I thought, “If Eddie Lama can change the direction of his life, anyone can.” I still think that. The film is available to watch for free online or you can also buy the DVD. Heartwarming.

2. Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home – Another wonderful film from Jenny Stein, James LaVeck, and the folks at Tribe of Heart about the stories of several people, many of whom were once involved in small and large farms that used animals. The film takes you on the bittersweet journey of those who grew over time to view their life paths differently. We also get to meet those now running animal sanctuaries and trying to make a difference for farmed animals. Some of my favorite people, such as Harold Brown from Farm Kind and Howard Lyman of Voice for a Viable Future were featured in this film. This is an eye-opening piece for people who think small, family farm operations are much different and more “humane” places for animals. They aren’t. And if you don’t believe animal rights activists, listen to those who were involved in these industries. Their stories will break your heart, but hopefully raise your spirits as well. This is a film that I personally screened to many friends in my own home and continues to make a difference in the lives of those who watch it. This documentary was just released this year and is available on DVD.

3. Earthlings – This Nation Earth film directed by Shaun Monsoon, is a tour de force into the world of animal use and abuse that is narrated by actor Joaquin Phoenix with accompanying music by Moby. I own the DVD, but in all honesty, have probably only watched it once in its entirety. I have allowed others to borrow it though, as once one knows what happens to animals in the food, entertainment, clothing, research, and pet industries, they will never be the same. This is a great film for any naysayers who think our treatment and use of animals “can’t be that bad.” It provides the images, sounds, and horrors that make one think more critically about all of the industries that exploit animals, and hopefully one’s own choices. This film isn’t for the meek and can be viewed online for free or purchased on DVD.

4. Vegucated – Before her directorial debut of Vegucated, I had the pleasure of meeting Marisa Miller Wolfson many years ago at a Sowing Seeds workshop through the Institute for Humane Education. When her film was slated to come out, I knew it would be a keeper. Marisa takes her background in humor, education, and advocacy and created a fabulous documentary that follows the lives of three meat and cheese loving New Yorkers as they go on a six week journey into veganism. The film documents their trials and tribulations, and provides an education into the health, animal, and environmental impact of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Because this film delves into all three (vs. just one aspect) of the benefits of a vegan diet, I have used it as part of the curriculum in my Environmental Psychology course. This is also a film that is very accessible to the masses and provides comic relief to balance out the heavy issues the subjects (and audience) have to face. The film is now available on Netflix (DVD or streamable) or for purchase in a variety of formats. Highly recommend.

5. May I Be Frank – This is the only film on the list that I had the privilege of seeing on the big screen at Cinemapolis, an independent movie theater in Ithaca, NY. Afterwards, the main subject of the documentary, Frank Ferrante was available for Q&A. I’ve blogged about this powerful experience previously and walked away with over a half dozen copies of the film myself to give to others. The filmmakers, Cary Mosier, Ryland Engelhart, and Conor Gaffney follow the story of Frank’s transformation from a very unhealthy, addicted lifestyle of unhappiness to one of healing through a raw, vegan diet and their inspiring coaching in 42 days. This project started when Frank was asked one day by Ryland, in Cafe Gratitude in San Franscisco the question of the day, “What is one thing you want to do before you die?” Frank replies “I want to fall in love one more time, but no one will love me looking the way I do.” In his journey for love of another, Frank learns self-love and the audience comes to love him as well. The film is available for purchase on DVD. Makes a great gift too!