Published On: March 7, 2013

British Animal Rights Filmmaker Visits Curitiba

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By John Curtin

I am back shivering in cold wintry England after having spent a month warming my bones in the glorious Brazilian sunshine. Oh I miss Brazil! I think, above all else, I miss the smiles that greeted me everywhere I went. Whatever problems Brazil has to deal with, and I’m sure the list is endless, at least the art of smiling is not under threat of extinction like it is in so many other places in the world today.

Brazil is about to get a seat at the table of the “big boys” of global capitalism — welcome to the club. There is money in buckets to be had, but I would say, Watch Out, Be Careful, because one of the prices that you will pay for your entrance into the cut-throat, heartless, profit-obsessed business world is losing your beautiful smile. Here in England as we enter the frenzy of holiday shopping, the money is flowing into the packed shopping centres, but the poor old simple smile has been forgotten. Please don’t take your beautiful warm smile for granted – like the jungle of Belo Monte – it might not be around for long!

I came to Brazil with an invitation to show a film that I made called Jill’s Film for the Mostra Film Festival in Curitiba. I was first asked to simply give permission for my film to be shown, but then after an exchange of emails with the lovely organisers, I ended up impulsively pressing the “Buy it now” button for a flight to Brazil. My idea was to give a talk at the film festival and then hopefully a few other opportunities would arise that would allow me to share some experiences with fellow animal rights activists and learn about the animal liberation movement in Brazil.

The moment I arrived in Brazil my expectations were exceeded, and it turned out to be a non-stop adventure. I gave more talks on my film and animal rights than I have ever given in such a short space of time. I even got to visit two amazing animal sanctuaries (De las Fadas and Los Gnomos), and by the end of my month stay in Brazil, I felt like I was part of the movement, part of the family.

I expressed in my talks that there are no Brazilian animals or English animals because the animal liberation movement is a family without borders. I have travelled to many countries to meet with other activists, but I must say that the hospitality I received in Brazil, which made me literally feel at home, has deeply touched my heart.

Jill’s Film is about the life of a friend of mine, Jill Phipps, who was tragically killed whilst protesting against animal abuse. In a scene from the film, Jill’s partner, whilst giving a speech at her funeral, says that her life of kindness and compassion will inspire a lot of people around the world for a long time. It felt so good to see this being fulfilled when I was able to receive such positive feedback from the various screenings that we did in Curitiba, São Paulo, and Rio.

Marquees in the Swanswell for Jill's Day in Britain

One of the reasons I made the film is that I had an idea people would be able to connect with Jill, with her story and with her beautiful smile. We are facing unprecedented levels of industrial scale animal abuse — the horrors of which go beyond comprehension — and it seems impossible to relate to the scale of the abuse. Thus, one way in which I thought the film could play its role would be to make it personal. It’s about Jill, a lovely caring gentle human being, but it’s also about all of Jill’s other brothers and sisters in the movement. It is a sad story of mothers losing their young — Jill’s mum lost her daughter, Jill’s son lost his mum. This story is replayed every day in order to put meat and milk onto supermarket shelves. Whilst it is a sad story, the last thing I wanted to do was to make people depressed, so it was wonderful to hear how inspired the people who watched the film felt after seeing it.

Part of the reason I so massively enjoyed my time in Brazil was the opportunity to witness how the movement is emerging and growing and developing its own identity. I have been involved in the struggle for animal liberation for many years, and it is only in the last few years that the movement in South America has caught my eye.

I didn’t know what to expect from Brazil, but I was delighted to see how dynamic it is. What is clear to me is that something very significant is going on. I was very surprised at how interested the Brazilian people are in the issue of animal cruelty. Brazil is a country of paradox, with more cows than people, yet it also has a law that forbids hunting. It is possibly the only country in the world with such a law.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing I saw and one that really left an impression upon me was whilst watching Veddas activists holding a street awareness demonstration. What I saw was passers-by stopping to watch the slaughterhouse scenes being played on a screen. There’s nothing unusual in that, but what was striking was seeing how long these people stayed around, talking about the scenes, and engaging with the activists. It was typical for Brazilians to stop for 20 or 30 minutes at the demonstration, which is something I am not used to seeing. Normally people just pass on by with perhaps a momentary stop. To me this says something: Brazilian people seem to want to know more about the hidden world of animal abuse. This desire for awareness is not how it is in most cultures. In most places, there is rigid determination not to face up to the truth of animal abuse.

I’ve listened to many activists bitterly complaining about the situation in Brazil, but I am telling you what I saw. From my perspective, it is promising. A crack in the “system” is appearing. The Brazilian people are becoming aware of animal abuse and environmental issues. They are protesting for such ideas as abandoning the Belo Monte Dam and killing more cows than any other nation on earth. I say: Break open the floodgates of love and compassion – come on Brazil – now is the time!

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John Christopher Curtin has been involved with the animal rights movement for about 30 years, having visited and helped animal movements in many countries from Brazil to Sri Lanka.

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