As the editor, co-producer and music composer of the anti-fur documentary “Skin Trade”, Gene Blalock had a huge part in bringing the film to the screen. He’s taking on an even bigger role in the new documentary “Sanctuary”. Gene took a few minutes out of his hectic schedule to talk to us about the upcoming film.
What made you become interested in filmmaking and specifically animal rights documentaries?
I was on a skateboarding team traveling the country shooting videos and that’s really what sparked my love of filmmaking. I ended up going to film school at Columbia College in Chicago to become a director. I was vegetarian and then eventually vegan back then, but I didn’t go to film school with the intent of making animal rights films. I wanted to, and still want to, make films with stories and narratives, but my love for animals led me to help a number of animal rights organizations. When people realized that I have some films skills, well that led to me editing their footage and putting together some undercover and other videos. Eventually, that led to meeting Shannon Keith and working with ARME on the feature film, Skin Trade.
When I first saw Behind The Mask, I thought it was a great documentary. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the Animal Liberation Front and I was impressed with how that film presented the information in a fair, objective, balanced manner. I’ve always said I am interested in working on any project that will have the greatest effect to help animals.
As for ARME, Shannon is very effective in getting the funding for producing quality films that reach a lot of viewers. I try to support and work with projects that I feel are the most efficient use of my time. The projects I have done with ARME have definitely been that.
As the only editor on Skin Trade, how do you keep your sanity when watching such graphic footage over and over?
You’re right – it’s a real issue. Shannon had pretty much shot and acquired most of the footage for Skin Trade before I got involved. We had hundreds of hours of raw footage that had been gathered by undercover workers at fur farms. It’s really tough to watch that footage, but I had seen a lot of footage before as well as witnessing events, first-hand. You have to come from the mindset that no matter how traumatized I feel from viewing the footage, it’s never as bad as what that animal had to go through and what the investigator had to withstand. Friends who are investigators tell me that they wake up with nightmares, reliving the stuff that they have seen. Whatever I’m editing and watching is certainly not as terrible as what happened right in front of them.
Skin Trade has been shown all over the world and has opened a lot of eyes and a lot of doors. You recently spoke in front of the legislative branch of the Israeli government known as the Knesset. Tell us how that came about.
There’s a group of lobbyists in Israel that are pushing for the country to become completely fur-free. Because of our involvement with Skin Trade, the lobbyists brought Shannon and me over to speak. What I found really interesting was that the leader of the Knesset said that he had never seen an issue that went from being lobbied to a potential law so quickly. It’s now come down to this weird dichotomy between the anti-fur coalition and the traditional Hasidic Jews who make the laws. In Israel, the government is affected in part by religion, unlike here in the US where government and religion are separated. A group of rabbis say, “This is Gods word,” and the legislators will pass laws based on that.
Frankly, there’s not a lot of fur in Israel. Fur is not produced in the country so the ban is almost a symbolic gesture, but it will be great if the ban passes. It will set a precedent for the world. While we were there, the executive vice-president of the Canadian Fur Council, Alan Herscovici, was sitting at the same table as us. He was brought over by the pro-fur lobby to argue that it was silly to even consider the ban on fur in Israel since no fur is being produced in the country. There he was, half-way around the world, trying to protect his pocketbook. It’s sad that it all comes down to money.
When you were in the middle of editing Skin Trade did you ever think two years later you would be sitting in a suit and tie in front of the governing body of Israel?
That was pretty much the last thing I thought would happen. (laughs)
Shannon had met Kari Bagnall of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary years ago and had the idea of doing a “primate movie” on the backburner for a long time. When we had wrapped up Skin Trade and talked about continuing to work together on a new film, it made sense to work on a film we both thought a wide and diverse audience could relate to.
How has the shoot for the new film been going?
We have been down to the sanctuary twice. The first time was primarily reconnaissance to meet the monkeys, shoot a generalization of everything and try to get an idea for a compelling story. Shannon had the idea that she wanted to tell the story of these monkeys, but had no idea which monkeys or what angles we were going to explore. Certain monkeys connected with Shannon, certain ones connected with me, but every single one of them has an amazing story. Each one has been saved from some horrible situation and now enjoys a safe, loving life at the sanctuary. We have now narrowed it down to five monkeys, at this point. We believe we will be able to get some information on the animals’ back story and be able to tell their stories.
All of which end up with happy endings since they are now at the sanctuary.
Yes. The approach to this film is to avoid being deemed an “animal rights” film. On its surface, we want it to play as a cute monkey movie where people watch it and say “Awwwwe, look at those cute little monkeys. I LOVE them.” We will use that connection to explain, for example, why circuses are bad or why a monkey as a pet is a poor choice. Hopefully, people will get the message without feeling beaten over the head with the message like they do with a film such as Skin Trade.
Do you have any other projects that you’re currently working on besides the re-release of the Skin Trade DVD and the new film?
I’m always editing for different groups. I recently did something for Animal Acres as well as the Fur Free West Hollywood campaign. But I’m currently focusing most of my time on Sanctuary since it’s such a huge and amazing project.
To find out more about Gene and his upcoming projects visit his website. You can also view the trailer for the upcoming documentary Sanctuary below: