Animal activists unleashed

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      TORONTO–Your Mommy Kills Animals doesn't set out to tell you it's wrong if she does. At least, that wasn't director Curt Johnson's motivation for making the film.

      Johnson, who grew up on a chicken farm and isn't vegan or vegetarian, became interested in the subject when he read that the U.S. government had labelled People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals one of the top domestic terrorist threats. That's really wild," Johnson explained.

      The film premiered at the Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto in the spring, and runs in Vancouver at the Vancity Theatre from Friday to Tuesday (August 17 to 21). It divides the debate into three camps, based on human rights, animal rights, and animal welfare. Human-rights advocates assert that we have the right to use animals however we please–for food, testing, fur, et cetera. Animal-rights activists insist that no human being has the right to kill or harm an animal. Animal-welfare groups–and this is an important distinction for Johnson–assert that it's acceptable for animals to die at the hands of humans, but they should never suffer. Within the three divisions, there are numerous shades of grey.

      But Your Mommy is more about how these groups articulate their arguments; for example, should a person be labelled a terrorist for spray-painting fur coats, releasing animals in captivity that are suffering, or accosting researchers who use animals for testing? The film raises questions about freedom of speech, the right to protest, and ever-changing definitions of terrorism.

      Even Johnson himself became the object of scrutiny, by both the government and animal-advocacy groups, for making the movie. "During filming, we went through so much," he recalled during the Hot Docs fest. "We were approached by undercover feds; my hotel room was broken into over and over”¦ We ended up having to book more than one hotel room in every city we went to, and under different names."

      Animal-advocacy groups PETA and the Humane Society of the United States withdrew their participation from the film a few weeks into production. "Suddenly I was getting e-mails from people like, 'I was told by such and such not to talk to you because your film is not going to be objective,'" Johnson said. "It got to where I didn't know which side it was coming from. We were talking to people on both sides–that was the weird part–and that's what made people nervous."

      Johnson described the experience of making the film as "freaky" not only for him but also for his small crew, whose experience prior to making the film was shooting Roker on the Road for the Food Network. "I told them before [we started filming] that this is going to be way different from anything they'd done before”¦ And afterward they were like, 'Shit, we'll be telling our grandkids about this someday.'"