In this interview with Close-up Culture, director Giacomo Giorgi talks about his documentary On The Wild Side and the worldwide movements against hunting.
On The Wild Side will have its UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London. For ticket info
Q: What has been your personal journey with the anti-hunting movement? What first drew you to it?
A: I’ve always loved animals and – over two decades ago – I decided to change my life to reduce the effect my habits were having on other lives. Ever since then, I made this shift in ethical choices one of the main foundational pillars of my life.
Through my youth I joined different campaigns and tried to advocate for the protection of animals through the means I had at my disposal. Obviously this included the protection of wildlife and of course as a primary objective, the opposition to hunting.
In 2010 my partner Raffa, who was part of the process of making this movie all along, and myself decided to join the fleet from Sea Shepherd (a marine conservation organization www.seashepherdglobal.org) and for quite a few years we focused on the protection of the ocean’s wildlife.
It was while on board one of their ships that we decided to make On The Wild Side.
Q: What was the inspiration or starting point to make a film as ambitious and global as ‘On The Wild Side’?
A: Throughout the many years orbiting around the animal rights/environmental/conservation movement, I got to meet many realities that would work actively to oppose hunting and poaching in many different areas of the world. So three years ago I decided to turn the switch that changed the camera mode from photo to video, and decided to make a documentary and learn how to do it on the go.
After a long time being involved in this movement, I feel that the past few years have seen an interesting change: more than anytime before, more people seem to be sensitive to the ethical treatment of animals and the environment. With many documentaries about factory farming, global warming, pollution and a few documentary about single hunting issues, mainly related to poaching,
I thought it could have been a good idea to make a documentary that not only explains the issue, but also gives viewers a wide variety of approaches they can take to be part of the conversation. I soon realised that making this as my first documentary was indeed an ambitious step.
Q: For a vast amount of the population hunting is no longer question of subsistence. What drives still people to hunt and kill animals? Are there underlying universal motivations or does it differ in different countries and cultures?
A: It is really interesting to work on a project like this and see the commonalities and the differences between hunters from places that are geographically very remote from each other.
There are of course still biocentric cultures out there, primarily indigenous groups, for whom hunting is just a piece of the puzzle of their culture and part of their self-determination tool-set.
But the average hunter has a lot of the same drives, and most importantly the same excuses whether they are from the USA, Italy or Australia. From my personal point of view, everything is rooted in dominance. Living in an era where everything is at our disposal almost effortlessly, the drive to kill a wild animal seem so unnecessary.
Some say they prefer to do that than eat farmed animals due to healthy and ethical reasons, but that model is impossible to apply to every human being that craves meat. Any wild “resource” (animals, habitat) is in constant deminishment and danger. To add hunting to the equation seems quite irresponsible.
Q: One of the voices in the films that stood out to me was former hunter Ken Damro. How did Ken become involved in ‘On The Wild Side’ and what does his voice lend to the film?
A: Ken Damro is an incredible character. I keep repeating myself that one day I will do a documentary just about him and his story.
During one of the long drives of our filming trip in North America, we were listening to a podcast, and one of the episodes was an interview with Ken. The timing couldn’t be more perfect! We were going right where he lived, in Wisconsin, USA. We contacted the podcast hosts to find a contact of Ken and wrote him straight away.
Initially we were really happy he agreed to be interviewed, but after we actually met him and the interview took place, we were absolutely amazed by his story and decided that it was going to be the beginning and the end of the film. He is the perfect representation of what the film wants to transmit: anyone can change and become part of the solution, even a formerly “avid hunter”, as he defines himself, like Ken.
I know that his story is not a unique case, but the potency in his words and the way he transmit his story are quite unique. I wish there was more time on the film to put more of his interview.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the other people featured in the film and what you wanted to create with this collage of voices?
A: When On The Wild Side was on the “drawing board” our idea was not completely defined, and actually a bit different. While making the movie, I decided to change the strategy all together: I wanted to do something that would get the audience wanting to get involved once the film was over. So I wanted to give them a wide pallet of ways they can be involved.
One could be a politician, a professor, a lobbyist, a paramilitary, a prosecutor, someone involved in an NGO or in the education field, or an activist on the field and there is a role for everyone.
Throughout the three years of production, we conducted over 60 interviews! It was incredibly hard to pick who we were forced to leave out of the final cut of the movie.
Q: What are the forces that work to support and promote hunting?
A: Hunting has a big weight and presence in the places where decisions are made. In many countries in Europe there are hunting lobbies, gun lobbies, and farmers groups that push for looser hunting regulations. In places like the US you can add to the equation the National Rifle Association, and some other entities.
But the fact remain that in most places, the majority of the population is strongly against hunting, especially when it is for entertainment. Yet hunting still takes place thanks to a huge pull from those pro-hunting groups when it comes to decision-making. We thought about giving hunters a voice, we contacted many people. Only two people agreed to be interviewed, after we really polished our presentation of the documentary.
In the end we decided that these big groups have endless resources and platforms to tell their narrative, and the goal of our documentary was to advocate for animals and tell the stories of those who fight for them daily.
Q: I’m sure we can expect to see a number of upsetting and shocking images in the film. Did you encounter anything that was particularly surprising or shocking while making this ‘On The Wild Side’?
A: Although I’ve seen my share of upsetting things through the years, most of the film’s hunting images come from NGOs’ archives.
But while filming On The Wild Side, something particularly upsetting was to find a small songbird with its neck snapped by a trap. That bird is such a symbol of freedom and vulnerability. Its species flies thousands of kilometres every season to migrate from north to south and back.
And to see how its life got taken, without even an effort from the person who is responsible for it, in the most cowardly way of luring a wild animal into a trap… it really reflects the value we give to what surrounds us.
Q: As far as I am aware, fox hunting has been the most contentious hunting issue here in England. It is very much tied to tradition and class. What did you observe about the culture of hunting in England and how people have resisted it?
A: For decades there has been opposition from the public against fox hunting. On one side, people were physically intervening to protect the foxes. On the other, many campaigns were calling for the shutdown of fox hunting until it was actually banned a few years ago. Despite that, fox hunting still continues today.
To me the battle for the life of foxes is something not short of remarkable. The term battle in this case is not a figure of speech. In the UK countryside, every weekend people give up their spare time and their safety to either monitor hunts or actually put themselves on the line.
There are countless articles about the clashes between hunters and the people that want to protect the foxes. This violence from the hunters’ side, that ends up targeting both animals and humans that are trying to protect them, is the thing we really wanted to focus on.
And it is not just against so called “more radical” activists from the Hunt Saboteurs Association (https://www.huntsabs.org.uk). Members of the public, who simply monitor the hunt, have also suffered really severe injuries. Companies like Lush, a very popular cosmetics brand with a strong ethical message, got threatened and their shops and employees got harassed by hunters, due to the fact that they openly campaigned against fox hunting in their stores.
All this violence to cover for something like fox hunting, that is even illegal now in the UK. In the documentary there is a very intense section dedicated to this issue and the violence connected to it.
Q: What does it take for a person to get involved in the anti-hunting movement and make difference?
A: It really doesn’t take much. Someone would argue that today, things can be made from the comfort of our homes, without making many sacrifices, by signing petitions or utilising social media platforms. This might be true, but it is a double edge sword.
I think that if one has the possibility to, they should try to use these online tools get out of the virtual world, by finding out what is currently going on around them. If there are NGOs to join, politicians to talk to, education programs to help or activists that go on the field to interfere with local hunts that one can join.
There are plenty of things that can be done, with different levels of commitment. What’s on the movie is nothing but a drop in the ocean.
Q: ‘On The Wild Side’ will have its UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London. What impact do you hope this film has on audiences?
A: The goal I had in mind when starting to make this film was to get out of my comfort zone, out of the circle of people who are already aware of these issues. So by being selected in such a big festival that is not focused on environmental issues, I hope that some people who are curious about this issue will come see the movie and get inspired.
Q: And finally, are you optimistic about the future of anti-hunting movement?
A: I truly am. I can see how active this movement is. I can see how much of a minority pro-hunting people are. In my country, Italy, hunting has been declining for decades, and it is not an isolated case. So I’m positive that a change is coming.
There is a problem though: with every extra day that hunting is allowed, we are losing more lives. With every extra month we spend discussing the issue, blood is shed. With every extra year, more species are going extinct. I feel empathy for every animal that gets killed, and I do feel pain and frustration while waiting for the time when hunting will phase out through this long struggle.
It might not mean much for you, or me or us who are part of the unquestioned victors of this practice, but it surely means the life for hundreds of millions of animals every year.
You can see ‘On The Wild Side’ at the Raindance Film Festival in London. For ticket info