Written by Jacky Sutton, Vegan ACT

The Ghosts in Our Machine is a beautiful, poignant anthem to lost souls – ours and the non-human animals brutalised by global capitalism and our rush to consume without empathy or conscience. It was filmed by Jo-Anne McArthur, a Canadian photographer, who travels the world to bear witness to the callous sadism of humanity in its reduction of living beings to fur coats, body parts and play things. But unlike the underground footage exposing the horrific brutality of factory farms and abattoirs this film is easy on the eye. Relatively speaking.

Instead of shocking audiences into awareness – and hence, according to some schools of deterministic behaviourism – action, Jo-Anne has decided to focus on the humanity within us all, human and non-human, to reach out across language and categories to touch the heart of our common sentience. Her pictures of terrified foxes and mink in cages contain no violent scenes of blood and gore. The gruesome fate of these living beings is latent, banal, to use Hannah Arendt’s term, and in the mind of the beholder. We know what is in store and, like her, can do nothing.

The footage of the walking dead are interspersed with bucolic scenes from the Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, where Jo-Anne goes to decompress from the front lines. We watch as pigs and cows and chickens and goats – as well as animals we have classified as “pets” – gambol and frolic in a bucolic Disneyland of living beings just doing their thing. The contrast to the cowed and brutalized is implicit, a ghostly palimpsest of our inhumanity to the Other.

Sitting in the Dendy Cinema in Canberra City Centre on July 20 it was hard to believe that I was watching a film about animal rights. And that the cinema, on a bright sunny Sunday, while not packed had a respectable showing. Could it be that the tide is finally turning? And that we can finally acknowledge our responsibility to protect the precious, fragile world over which, like it or not, we rule, from its worst enemy – ourselves?

I hope so.

Kudos to Animal Liberation ACT and Little Oak Sanctuary for organizing this event. And to Dendy Cinemas for screening it.