The Ghosts in Our Machine: An Interview With Liz Marshall and Jo-Anne McArthur

There has been a lot of talk about upcoming documentary film The Ghosts in Our Machine, and for good reason.  It is an incredible, mesmerizing, immersive homage to the billions of animals whose lives are caught up in the insanity of a system that treats them as mere production units.   The film’s unhurried cadence allows you to surrender to every layer of emotion as you become a part of a world that is hidden in shadows.  With its poetic cinematography and strong emphasis on creating captivating visuals, “Ghosts” will haunt you long after the closing credits.

About Liz Marshall:

Liz Marshall 2Liz Marshall is a Gemini-nominated, award-winning auteur filmmaker who fuses character-driven cinematic storytelling with social and environmental justice issues. Since the 90s she has created a body of documentary projects shot all over the world which focus on a range of subjects including animal use and animal sentience, the right to water movement, HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, sweatshop labor, censorship affecting writers and journalists, war-affected children, music icons and the written and spoken word. Liz is well versed in the craft of conceptual point-of-view storytelling as a means of exploring complex issues.

About Jo-Anne McArthur:

Jo-Anne McArthur and OrlandoAward-winning photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur has been documenting the plight of animals on all seven continents for over ten years. Her documentary project, We Animals, is internationally celebrated and over 100 animal organizations, among them Igualdad Animal, Sea Shepherd and the Jane Goodall Institute, have benefited from her photography. Many organizations have also worked with her closely on campaigns and investigations. The first We Animals photo book is being published by Lantern Books in late 2013. Recent awards and accolades include: co-recipient (with Liz Marshall) of the 2013 Compassion for Animals Award in Toronto, the 2011 Canadian Empathy Award (art category), one of CBC’s Top 50 Champions of Change, Farm Sanctuary’s 2010 “Friend of Farm Animals” award, HuffPost Women “Top 10 Women trying to change the world,” one of 20 activists featured in the book The Next Eco Warrior, and the “Shining World Compassion Award” by Supreme Master Ching Hai.

What is The Ghosts in Our Machine about?

Liz Marshall: The Ghosts in Our Machine is multilayered. Its primary trajectory is to illuminate the lives of individual animals living within and rescued from the machine of our modern world, and to pose the moral question, are non-human animals property to be owned and used, or are they sentient beings deserving of rights?

I grounded this thesis through a character-driven human narrative: the heart and lens of animal rights photographer Jo-Anne McArthur. Through Jo-Anne’s story the audience meets a cast of animal subjects over the course of a year, and each encounter and photograph is a window into global animal industries: food, fashion, entertainment and research. All this is part of an epic photo project called We Animals, where McArthur has documented the lives of animals around the world with heart-breaking empathic vividness. The Ghosts in Our Machine charts her efforts to bring wider attention to a topic that most of humankind strives hard to avoid

What types of images can viewers expect to see?

“The connection that I have to animals while I’m photographing them is one of empathy…There is a huge mistreatment and inequality between human and non-human animals, and that’s always in the forefront of my mind.” ~ Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Ann McArthur: The “Ghosts” film seamlessly blends its beautiful cinematography with both the images I took while we were shooting the film and images from the We Animals archive. The images are, for the most part, intimate portraits of animals in the situations that we put them, such as fur farms, dairy farms and macaque breeding farms. The photos aim to connect the viewer with the animal, extending the experience of what it must be like to live in a cage, or in an aquarium, or even at a sanctuary where rescued animals live. The images are meant to be beautiful, thoughtful and artful. I’m always trying to make images that draw the viewer in. I don’t want to repel anyone, even with the the heart-wrenching images. The idea is always to connect us to the animals

What inspired you to make The Ghosts in Our Machine?

Liz Marshall: A combination of things, my own journey of grappling with the issues (which I believe we all do when confronted with the staggering realities of animal use and exploitation), of being an animal lover, of believing in social justice, and being in a relationship with a longtime animal rights activist, Lorena Elke, who effectively challenged me to tackle the animal issue in a documentary. So, it’s been a process that began for me when I read Diet For A New America almost 25 years ago. Making The Ghosts in Our Machine has changed me, broadened my worldview considerably

What do you hope to accomplish by making this film?

Liz Marshall: To be part of the zeitgeist of social change that is taking place. We want the film to be a catalyst for change and inspiration. The biggest goal is to affect a consciousness shift.

What makes The Ghosts in Our Machine different from other animal rights films?

Liz Marshall: There are many important animal rights films out there. The Ghosts in Our Machine was created to reach a broader audience. I think it is different in its tone, its form, and because it leaves the audience with open-ended questions. It’s not a polemic style film. It’s a gentle film with dramatic impact.

Did you make this film with a specific audience in mind?

Liz Marshall: A broad and diverse demographic consisting of activists of all stripes, animal lovers of all stripes, and cinephiles of all stripes!

What was your favorite part of making The Ghosts in Our Machine?

Jo-Anne on fur farm
“I feel like I’m a war photographer. I am photographing history and photographing changes in history right now, in terms of animal rights and where it’s going.” ~ Jo-Anne McArthur

Liz Marshall: All of it! It is hard, hard work that involves hundreds of thousands of details, and attention to scale and to the big picture at all times, simultaneously. I have nothing to complain about. I love filmmaking, I love helping to usher the film into the world, and I love connecting with people, engaging in dialogue, and being part of the change.

Jo-Ann McArthur: I think seeing it come together in the editing suite was the best part. Liz shot 180 hours of footage and seeing it be whittled down and laboriously shaped, piece by tiny piece, into the magic that has become The Ghosts in Our Machine, was a really beautiful thing to behold. I’m thankful that Liz was open to my ideas and thoughts during editing as well, so I got to give my two cents once in a while if I really liked something, or thought something didn’t fit. And then hearing them build the soundscape to the film, which is such an important component, was really cool. The film really came to life when the sounds came in…the sound of pen on paper, the sound of Maggie’s tail cutting the air as it furiously wagged, the sound of Fanny and Blitzen’s sniffing when they first meet. Beautiful stuff!

What was the hardest part of shooting the film?

Liz Marshall: The painful realities of bearing witness to the four main animal industries featured in the film: animals used for food; animals used for fashion; animals used for biomedical research and teaching; animals used for entertainment. Bearing witness happened in very intense ways while documenting the fur farm investigation, and visiting zoos and aquaria, but it also happened while filming mundane urban scenes to illustrate the many ways that animals have been reduced to ingredients and bits and parts.

Jo-Ann McArthur: I actually can’t say that there was a “hardest part” to shooting the film. Perhaps only that I generally fly by the seat of my pants in life, but, we couldn’t do that with the film, as so much planning was involved, and so much was at stake. It wasn’t just me and my camera, or me and an investigator or two, it was a whole team of us, which was an absolutely huge amount of work for us all to coordinate, especially Liz, of course. It wasn’t hard to get used to the cameras either because the team of cinematographers was absolutely stellar. Really unobtrusive people that I felt comfortable with immediately.

What action do you hope individual viewers will take after watching the film?

Sonny at Farm SanctuaryJo-Ann McArthur: To face cruelty to animals is to face our complicity and our responsibility in that cruelty. People are hesitant to face these things; both are hard to handle! However, the film unravels in a way that allows the viewer to reflect. We aren’t hitting anyone over the head with a direct message. The film opens doors and opens up a dialogue as well. Are animals sentient creatures deserving of respect, or are they property? I want people to leave the film in a contemplative mood, and I’ll hope that it will lead us all to questions about how we can alleviate cruelty through our own actions. We can stop consuming animals, and products tested on them. We can consume less in general. We can become more informed and responsible stewards of the earth. We haven’t a second to lose; the time to make changes is now, for all the right reasons, and I know that “Ghosts” will be one of the many catalysts in the ongoing global shift to make the world a better place for animals. I hope that viewers will be a part of the change. They’ll see how great it feels to be active, even in small ways, in helping animals.

When can everyone go out and see it?

Liz Marshall: We’re conducting an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release in the U.S. in four major U.S. markets between November and December 2013: New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco (TBA) Chicago (TBA). This follows an 11-city theatrical release across Canada, and 3 prestigious international film festival awards. Here are the dates coming up:

New York: Village East Cinema, November 8-14 (6 screenings daily)

Los Angeles: Laemmle Theatre, Music Hall Beverly Hills, November 15-21 (3 screenings daily)

Buy tickets and spread the word.

If there’s a one-sentence message you want viewers to take away from The Ghosts in Our Machine, what would it be?

Liz Marshall: As consumers, we can all make a difference for the Ghosts, each and every day.

The Ghosts in our machine are a reality we are seldom faced with.  They are hidden from us and yet they are there, suffering in a seemingly eternal unrest.  Our duty as fellow inhabitants of this planet is to recognize their existence, bear witness to their suffering and take action.  We must always remember that as long as our silence persists, our non-human brothers and sisters will remain ghosts forever.

4 thoughts on “The Ghosts in Our Machine: An Interview With Liz Marshall and Jo-Anne McArthur

  1. Thank you, thank you for this, Kara! Thank you for the great questions and for helping to spread the word about this indelible doc. Let us hope this film does indeed open doors to change!

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