Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shannon Keith (Behind the Mask, Skin Trade, ARME) Interview

Lawyer, filmmaker, and activist, Shannon Keith is a prominent entity in animal defense and education. Her films "Behind the Mask: The Story of the People Who Risk Everything To Save Animals" and her most recent documentary "Skin Trade" are well known and received not only among the animal rights community, but have even had red carpet screenings amongst Hollywood's elite. Aside from her award winning films, Shannon is also the founder of ARME (Animal Rescue, Media & Education) who's main goals are rescuing homeless animals and releasing educational films. Shannon's achievements and methods are notable and effective in the struggle for animal rights, and I encourage everyone (seasoned activist or not) to take the time to view these powerful films.

this interview was conducted in May 2010 over email by Mike XVX.

what initially got you interested in veganism and animal rights?

I received an unsolicited mailing from PETA about animals on factory farms. I always thought I loved animals but still ate them. When I read the information, I immediately went vegetarian and a few years later I went vegan.
Animal rights issues were always of high value to me, especially being an only child, animals were my best friends and I was fascinated by them, so I studied them. When I learned that animals were considered "property" in the law, I was shocked and set out to make it my life's goal to change that.

you're currently screening your new film "Skin Trade". Can you tell us a little about it? are you happy with the attention it's receiving?

Skin Trade is an eye-opening, visually stunning comprehensive expose on the fur and fashion industries. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say that even people who thought they knew everything there was to know
about fur, learned a few more things in this film. People who knew nothing about fur have been shocked and dismayed and even began throwing out their LEATHER items!
The response has been amazing. We have had limited viewings so far and the responses from them have been overwhelmingly positive.
I did not set out to make a film with a happy ending; because there is no happy ending for these animals. I made a real film that people can touch and feel - it's palpable.
With the help of my extraordinary editor/producer/composer, Gene Blalock, we were able to make a beautiful film that tells a real story of deception and lies.

have you had people outside the vegan and animal rights community attend the screenings?

Yes, especially at our industry premiere at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, CA, where it was mainly industry executives. After the premiere, I received attention from various cable networks and
distributors who felt compelled to get the message out there. We hope that these connections will pan out so more of the mainstream world will be exposed to the truth behind the bloody fur and fashion industries.

For activists currently living in the "Green Scare", what advice would you give those who face state oppression at every turn for completely legal activity?

That's a great question. I know that post AETA some activists are intimidated and some people may be deterred from being active. My response is that, while our civil liberties are being quickly eroded, we do still have a little something called
The First Amendment - Freedom of Speech. Our country was founded on this very concept.

I urge people to utilize their rights and continue to fight for what they believe in. Without social conflict, challenging the laws, igniting revolution, we will get nowhere for the animals. Luckily, there are many more attorneys that are representing activists and specializing
in animal rights and environmental law, so that these new repressive laws can be challenged and activists represented by competent, caring counsel.

Considering the recent arrests and lengthy jail sentences handed out to the SHAC 7, AETA 4 etc, do you think these trials set a precedent for the government to further criminalize legal, first amendment protected activism? Do you think these scare tactics will bring harm to the animal rights movement the way the federal government intends?

Thank you for asking this important question. The federal government certainly intended the SHAC 7 case as well as the AETA 4 case to set a precedent and scare people into stopping their activism.
At the core, we must all remember that the First Amendment has not been abolished, therefore, even though we are facing severe government repression, now is the time to fight even harder and be
proactive instead of reactive. If we let the government know via lawsuits and protest that we will not stand for our Constitutional rights to be stripped away, we will prevail.
However, this means taking risks and it means not allowing the government to stop protest activity. I encourage all activists to continue even harder than before in their fight for the freedom of animals.

Your first film "Behind the Mask: The Story of the People Who Risk Everything To Save Animals" has been largely distributed and well received. Was it your intention to make the documentary geared more towards the average person who has no previous knowledge of the animal rights movement? do you feel this can be attributed to it's success?

Yes, that was my goal. However, it seemed to have gone both ways: educating those without any prior knowledge as well as inspiring activists to take more action. I think the film is so successful because it is the first film to put human faces to those who really risked their freedom
as well as their lives for the animals. I can see from an outsiders point of view how it may be difficult to empathize with someone who sets fire to a slaughterhouse, when all you see is a person with a black mask on. I was able to pull that layer off and expose these humans for who they really
are: heroes, and people saw that.

in 2004 you started ARME (Animal Rescue, Media & Education) which is a group dedicated to rescuing homeless animals and education. Have you seen an escalation in animal abuse and neglect over the past few years because of the current economic situation in the United States?

Yes, in many ways. Right now I am dealing with the serious issue of animal abandonment. Homes have been foreclosed in record numbers, and the people there just leave their animals in these houses. No food. No water. Nothing.
Much of any spare time I have is spent distributing food to people to feed these animals and finding homes for them.

what advice can you give the average person if they find an abandoned pet or are witness to animal abuse and neglect?

If you see an abandoned animal, take action. Do not assume someone else will handle it. It wont happen. It is YOUR duty to help that animal. Call a local rescue organization to come in and help, and if you cannot reach one,take the animal yourself. If you cannot bring the animal into your home, you can always board the animal until you get further assistance. People complain about the cost, but most boarding facilities offer a discount for rescued animals.
Give up your alcohol and soy lattes for a month to save a life. It's easier than you think.

If you witness animal abuse, immediately report it to the authorities. But, that's not enough. Follow up is key! Animal abuse is at the bottom of the list for law enforcement officials. Keep calling. Have others call. Make sure that the issue is not
forgotten and that something is being done about it.

A good example: A few years ago, my neighbors' dog was stolen. They told me about it 3 days after the incident. They knew he was stolen because people saw it happen. A white van pulled up to the gate of the yard, opened it, grabbed the puppy,
threw him in the truck, and sped off. Witnesses were able to get 4 digits of the 7 digit license plate, however, nothing was being done! The "detective" on the case from the local police department still had not run the plate.
So, I emailed every single person in my address book. I asked them to politely call and email this detective. The next morning, he called me at 7 a.m. and told me that he was "annoyed" by receiving thousands of calls and emails and so he ran the plate.
Later that afternoon, they found the perpetrator and found the dog!

are there any books, groups or organizations you recommend for people who are just starting to get involved with animal rights?

Yes. I would suggest reading "Free the Animals" by Ingrid Newkirk and get involved with local vegan and activist meetups to meet new people and get involved.
Sometimes it's hard to know where to start. I also think the following websites are great: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/action-center.aspx, http://www.peta.org/actioncenter/community.asp, http://ca.cok.net/lists/, and http://www.directaction.info/

Though you're currently busy with Skin Trade, do you have any other projects planned for the near future?

Yes! I am now in pre-production on 3 new documentaries that I hope to complete within the next year. I can't tell you what they are, but they are all very different and of course about animals!

Thank you so much for your time. do you have any last words?

Thank you! What you do is so critical. The more we get the message out there about animal exploitation, the more consciousness will change.
www.uncagedfilms.com, www.skintradethemovie.com, www.arme.tv