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November 11, 2011

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Films about sad animals

DOCUMENTARY films about animal welfare are receiving attention these days in China, which has no animal protection laws.

A number of short films exposing cruelty toward animals, such as elephants and pigs, and depicting the sad lives of stray dogs and cats have been screened publicly for a month online. They appeared on the website of the First Chinese Documentary Film Awards established by iSun TV that based in Hong Kong.

Around 200 short films of all types were screened and received votes by Internet users.

The films about animals aim to raise public awareness of animal welfare and of man's relationship with animals and the natural environment. They aren't very polished but they are effective. Though none of them received an award, they got a lot of votes from the public.

Wang Yizhong is an independent documentary maker in Yunnan Province, whose latest film is "Elephant Slaves along the Mekong River." Wang, who is 55, depicts how the popularity of rosewood furniture spells disaster for 1,500 elephant slaves in Laos. The film shows elephants carrying heavy timber up and down mountains every day from 8am to 6pm. Since 1997, Wang has been traveling around the Golden Triangle, which covers parts of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, recording poverty and suffering, as well as the illicit opium growing and trade.

Taiwanese film maker Shen Tzu-ken, who is just 21, presented "The End of Drifting," about efforts to care for stray dogs and cats in Taiwan. Shen majors in radio and television at the National Taiwan University of Arts. The film focuses on long-term efforts of a group of people to protect and care for strays, encourage adoption and raise awareness of animal rights.

The cruelty of industrial pig raising is presented in "Being," by Taiwanese film director Chou Ting-ju, a recent graduate in documentary film at the Tainan National University of Arts.


1. What inspired you to make the film?

2. What's the biggest challenge?

3. What's your message?

4. How should we treat animals?

5. How can we achieve balance between economic growth and respect for nature?

Wang Yizhong, director of "Elephant Slaves along the Mekong River."

A1: Over past years, I have witnessed a lot of things in the Golden Triangle region, especially the conflicting interests between man and nature. As a documentary director, I feel it is my responsibility to record what I have seen and make more people aware of the cost of urbanization and economic development.

A2: It took four years to shoot the elephant film. It took a lot of time to find the elephants deep in the forest and because it was so dense, there wasn't much space to set up cameras.

A3: Tropical forests are not only home to elephants and many other animals and plants, but also a "lung" of the earth. However, many people are still motivated entirely by profit. My documentary calls on people all over the world to protect forests and animals.

A4: Love them just the way you love your family. Give them respect and freedom.

A5: Our sociologists, economists and government officials have a duty to work out a mechanism to keep a balance between nature and development.

Chou Ting-ju, director of "Being."

A1: My first documentary was about an old dog in my home. I recorded his last days of sickness and death. The film is not just for remembrance. It's my own reflection on "being." Since then I have had a strong interest in exploring the situation of animals around us and their moods.

A2: The pig farm film took around four years. I had to get to know the farmers and win their trust, so they let down their guard. I also had to learn about the modern livestock industry.

A3: Few people know how their food gets to the table. I want to remind people of the suffering and pain of so many animal lives lost for each dinner. The film is also about food safety and ecological balance.

A4: When people exploit animals for food, they must decide if it's a basic need or just a desire. We must not ask too much from nature. If animals must be exploited, we should ease their pain and show respect.

A5: I suggest people eat less meat and spend more time learning about the food industry. Don't waste food. We should respect the sacrifice of animals and the work of farmers.

Shen Tzu-ken, director of "The End of Drifting."

A1: Two years ago I went to pet adoption events and was bewildered to see such sweet creatures abandoned on the streets and didn't understand why. I talked to animal welfare groups and learned about inhumane treatment of animals, as well as some people's devotion to stray dogs and cats. I made the film to seek justice for animals.

A2: The biggest challenge was how to tell an interesting, well-organized story. I had to be very selective since there was so much material and I had to choose sequences with the greatest impact.

A3: First, I want to encourage people to learn to coexist with animals peacefully. Second, I hope local governments can find more flexible solutions to the problem of stray animals. There are around 80,000 stray dogs in Taiwan and they are usually put to sleep if they are not adopted. However, that's not the way to solve the basic problem.

A4: Selfishness is in the genes of man. We humans are not the only beings on earth and we should spare certain living spaces for animals. As to pet owners, they should be prepared to accompany their pets for their entire lifetime. Never throw your dog or cat away. Animals should be neutered to control their number.

A5: We must find a strategic and sustainable way to develop our economy. Development should never be done at the cost of our environment. We need to discover more alternative and renewable energy resources.


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