Animal Film

A series of short films curated by Anat Pick


Lunchtimes: Monday July 13 – Wednesday July 15,  12:30-1:30pm, Theatre B, Old Arts.

Tuesday: July 14, 11am-3pm, Public Lecture Theatre (PLT), Old Arts.


Animal Film 

This short selection of animal films mixes documentary and fiction, from newsreel to science-fiction horror. The range of films illustrates the key role of animals in the history of cinema, and traces the medium’s involvement in, and creative response to, other modern industries and apparatuses that similarly depend on the natural resource of animals. The emergent picture is highly ambivalent: animals have been captured on film since its inception in ways that are highly problematic. As Akira Mizuta Lippit has argued in his book Electric Animal, animals “electrify” the screen. But the charge of the real that the presence of screen animals delivers is all too often tied to the violence—real or imagined—committed against animals. As a mass communication tool, an economic powerhouse, and as art, cinema is complicit in the wider systematic management of animal life. And yet cinema should not be considered solely as a tool of control. It also gives rise to possibilities and potentialities of alternative relations between living beings, moments of tenderness and resistance that confound domination.

This slight program opens with a selection of early “actuality” and fiction films, and concludes with two recent animal fantasies. Shown first is Thomas Edison’s Electrocuting an Elephant (1903), featuring the execution of Topsy, a performing elephant at Coney Island’s Luna Park. Topsy was sentenced to death by electrocution for killing three men, after years of violent captivity and servitude. Edison, who played a key part in the introduction of the electric chair in the State of New York, oversaw the filming of Topsy’s public execution by alternating current (AC). In the digital age, the film continues to circulate online. It remains a foundational example of the spectacle of animal death on screen. A number of other films from the early period highlight the interplay of domination and resistance that runs through the history of animal cinema. This early part of the program ends with a little known film by the Lumière brothers from 1897: Le Chat qui joue/ Cat at play, in which a small house cat is seen playing alone, framed by a window. The film gives the impression of a cat’s inner world, and, for once, forgoes the temptation to violence that is the mark of so many animal films.

The program closes with two recent fictional shorts: the BAFTA nominated Monkey Love Experiments, by Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson, and Melanie Light’s The Herd. Referencing both Trailblazer in Space, shown earlier in the program, and Harry Harlow’s maternal deprivation experiments on infant monkeys, Monkey Love Experiments is the moving story of a laboratory monkey who dreams of going to space. Director Melanie Light describes The Herd as a “vegan feminist horror,” a graphic fantasy in the tradition of the rape-revenge cycle. In The Herd, a group of captive women used for their milk, escape to freedom. The film operates as an allegory of the dairy industry, rooted in the controlling of females’ reproductive processes. As an animal rights filmmaker, Light kept a vegan set, stretching the idea of pro-animal film from in front of to behind the camera.

— Anat Pick

** Some of the films contain images of violence against animals. The Herd contains images of simulated sexual violence against women **

Animal Film Program

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