This weekend is the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. Hundreds of films are screened, all somehow tied into the environmental movement. The tag line for this year's festival is "where activism gets inspired".
I watched about eight films, including one detailing the history of the environmental movement, another about Inuit subsistence hunters and eider ducks (and the problems with hydraulic dams), and one delightful film about a children's book illustrator.
After each film, the crowd would applaud...it seemed, whether the film was "good" or not! Except one. One film garnered no applause. I can think of a few reasons why, but first I'll invite you to watch the film for yourself. It's 65 minutes long. It is called ALMA. Set aside one hour of your life and view this film.
Now, there are more than a hundred films aired at this festival. I did not see them all, although I did read the descriptions of many. The description of ALMA did not lead me to believe it had anything to do with "animal rights", but so far as I can tell - after seeing it - I'm pretty sure it is the only film that gives you real action items that will create the greatest impact on the deforestation of the Brazilian rain forest. But it is a scary suggestion - stop eating meat, dairy, and stop using leather.
There is no narration, only provocative images coupled with an appropriate, accompanying soundtrack. It opens with the beauty and diversity of the rainforest. The vibrancy, it's alive, alive! And then comes the men with chainsaws and fire, cutting and burning down one of the most biodiverse places on earth. When the rainforest is gone, the scrubby semi-desert appears...and so do cattle.
What I love about this film is how it introduces you to the cows as individuals who are emotional and sentient. You see a cow give birth, lovingly groom her calf. You watch him stand on wobbly legs and learn to nurse. Then you see what happens on dairy farms across the country - the farmer comes and steals her baby! She paces and cries outside the enclosure, desperately trying to seek out her baby.
Calves are seen frolicking, cows and bulls seen grooming one another. In moments of despair, you see two cows come together, connecting. And you cannot help but cringe when you see them panic and in fear. All caused by us.
You see the realities of the dairy industry and "beef" industry...and that it is not that Brazilian farmers are particularly cruel, because we see the same casual cruelty on dairy farms across the globe (where the soy grown in Brazil is fed to farmed animals in other parts of the world).
To put simply, consuming dairy, meat, and leather contributes to the wholesale destruction of rainforests and contributes to immense nonhuman suffering.
At the end of the film is the call to action: Reduce consumption of meat, dairy, and leather.
This is what I generally (and perhaps unfairly) think about environmentalists - they don't want to have to challenge real-world, daily norms that cause significant suffering and environmental degradation. They don't want to have to implement easy dietary changes, despite overwhelming evidence that global meat, dairy, and egg production contribute significantly to climate change, air & groundwater pollution, and desertification of the rainforests.
Think about it - many of the environmental issues that environmentalists opine about are so grand, so large that it can be VERY difficult for the average consumer to make meaningful change. I cannot tackle oil, gas, coal, nuclear, or even the big agribusiness companies. I cannot match their billions of dollars, their lobbyists, and their economic incentive to keep on keeping on, our earth be damned.
So environmentalists cling to things that are not bad, per se - buy hybrid vehicles, solar panels, turn off the light when you leave the room, modify how high you leave your thermostat, etc. But they ignore the biggest contributor to the destruction of our worldwide ecosystem - farmed animal agriculture and the plant agriculture that feeds that system.
I meet very few environmentalists actively advocating veganism, seeing the connection between animal agribusiness and planetary destruction. ALMA was the first film I saw that actively encouraged people to look at their dietary habits (not needs) and how they impact our planet.
ALMA gives you two reasons to care about who you eat - if you are unnmoved by the shivering, petrified cow as he stares in abject fear at the "box" where his herd-mates bellow during their deaththroes, then you should be moved by the total disregard for the welfare of orangutans, trees, monkeys, parrots, turtles, and ants whose bold beautiful web of life is crushed in the drive for more dead cow flesh, more dead cow skin, more soybeans to feed cows across the world. It may happen in Brazil, but its impacts are felt throughout the globe.