It's no secret that our world is full of problems today. Foreign and domestic, war-wrought and economic, involving
poverty and corruption, dictators and chaos. But there's a problem of gross injustice right here in our own country
that's of such a massive scale that it involves every single American. And yet, it seems like almost no one can see
Peaceable Kingdom is about some of the few who do see it and have devoted their lives to doing something
about it. The problem is factory farming and how it has changed the way we treat animals. Most people's eyes just
glaze over when you start to talk about the way we treat farm animals, but to the folks at Farm Sanctuary, the
rescue organization that is the subject of Peaceable Kindgom, the reality of factory farming is something that
everyone should be aware of. And it's hard to argue with that viewpoint. People eat meat but they're only
peripherally acquainted with where that meat comes from. They know that animals are killed but they don't want to get
their hands (or their minds) dirty with the knowledge of exactly how.
It's very hard to talk about Peaceable Kingdom without injecting my own values and beliefs into this review.
The magnitude of the horror on display is almost beyond comprehension: Chickens having the beaks hacked off so that
they won't peck each other to death in their filthy, tiny cages. Piles of cows, deathly ill from neglect and
mistreatment, literally left to die slow, painful deaths because it's simply too much of a hassle and expense to euthanize them. Trash dumpsters filled with baby chicks that the hatchery has decided to discard, even though
hundreds of them are still alive, struggling to break to the surface of the sea of their dead siblings. Veal cows
and pigs trapped in pens so small that they literally cannot turn around - a position that they will be forced to
maintain for the entirety of their miserable lives. It is truly beyond the pale.
This horror show is absolutely real, and it's happening at this moment with the sole purpose of bringing you
cheaper, fatter chicken, steak, bacon and turkey. If there were no other value to Peaceable Kingdom other than
to disseminate information on how these animals are being treated, then it would be worthwhile viewing for every
adult in America. I forced myself to watch every gruesome image (and I've been known to cover my eyes during my
favorite mainstream zombie flicks) so that I could say with full honesty what kind of film Peaceable Kingdom
is. We as a society seem to pride ourselves in not knowing what the true cost of our actions are. Recent wars and
gas prices have actually made people aware that oil doesn't just come from the pump but follows a long, complex path
to get there. A similar awakening is needed on the animal front. Books like Matthew Scully's brilliant "Dominion" and Eric Schlosser's incredibly
successful "Fast Food Nation" have done
excellent jobs at getting some of this backstory out there, but a person with any sense of feeling will be struck by
seeing these actual images. If there were any justice Peaceable Kingdom would have an impact similar to Upton
Sinclair's "The Jungle" had on turn-of-the-century meat processing plants.
The experience of visiting Farm Sanctuary did have that impact on several of the people interviewed in the film.
Thankfully, there are tales of uplift along with the exposés on misery in the film. The three that leave the
deepest impression are with three men who spent the majority of their lives working in the farm industry. One grew
up on an old fashioned farm and watched the transformation from family farming to this industrial nightmare, while
another was the owner of a massive feedlot who regularly dosed his cows with countless toxic chemicals. (The feedlot
system is about the least natural system you could dream up.) Hearing these men tell their stories is crucial to the
power of the film, since they are far removed from the stereotypical PeTA hippie that mainstream audiences would
never open up to. These men are as real as they come and hearing how they realized that what they were doing was
wrong and the emotion that it brings out of them, is absolutely moving.
Farm Sanctuary is both a rescue organization and an educational tool. The film documents them rescuing animals from
a variety of situations, whether it's downer cows who have been left for dead, goats so neglected and abused that
they can barely walk, and birds with almost no feathers left from nervously plucking them out. In one particularly
harrowing passage they attempt to save a few of the chickens trapped in cages left exposed by a hurricane that
destroyed some corporate farm buildings. The cages of a half million egg-laying chickens are scattered, the chickens
still trapped in the wire-mesh cages. Since the destruction is an insurance write-off for the farm, the debris,
hundreds of thousands of live chickens included, is basically just trash. While farm workers throw thousands upon
thousands of chickens - a great many still alive - into trash dumpsters, the Farm Sanctuary crew fills a van and a
station wagon with the few they can grab. It's a massive tragedy that's barely offset by the few animals Farm
Sanctuary can get ahold of. And while the weather that destroyed the farm is out of the hands of people, the
confinement of the chickens and the lack of compassion is not.
That's the most striking thing about the stories profiled in Peaceable Kingdom: The lack of compassion. One
sanctuary work says "we don't even talk to children about human compassion, let alone animal compassion." The
former-farmers all talk about how as kids they truly loved animals, but that they had to turn something off in their
psyches to deal with the realities of killing animals for a living. One even mentions how strange it is that he was
able to love his dog but somehow had conditioned himself to think that the farm animals were "different," a
separation he now realizes is wholly artificial.
Farm Sanctuary is an extraordinary place. It looks in the film like the closest to heaven on earth that I've ever
seen, where the only thing its inhabitants need to do everyday is what comes naturally. That it's so unusual and
special anymore for a cow to be able to stand in a field and eat grass, or for a pig to lie down and relax in a
nice, cool mudbath, says something right there. The casual cruelty that would torment an entire class of animals
simply for being born is reminiscent of human struggles of the past, a comparison that several of the people
profiled in the film make. One black woman compares the struggle for animal rights to the civil rights movement, a
comparison that skeptical viewers will laugh off. But she's sincere and she has an excellent point. She thinks back
to a time when people were living under oppression and could never imagine things changing for the better. She
remains hopeful that we are in a similar dark time for animals and that we'll come out of it eventually. Similarly,
the former feedlot owner talks about the origins of the spiritual "Amazing Grace," which was written by slave ship
captain John Newton. Much as Newton realized that the cruelty he was perpetuating was abhorrent, this man tearfully
renounces his past as a perpetrator of immeasurable suffering on many thousands of animals.
Peaceable Kingdom is not strictly a documentary; It's advocacy. There isn't much of an attempt to show the
other side of the debate. But the thing is, other than profit and a desire to eat cheap, easy food without
understanding where it comes from, there isn't much for the other side to hold up. The Farm Sanctuary crew don't
necessarily lecture that everyone should become a vegetarian, although there is little doubt that nothing would make
them happier. In fact, they don't seem to prescribe a path for viewers at all. I suspect they hope that the imagery
will do it for them. But really, their ultimate goal should be to try to make people more aware: If an audience
truly understands where their food comes from then they need to ask themselves whether or not it's worth it, whether
or not they want to actively support the practices that go into providing it. Peaceable Kingdom offers up the
information. Hopefully people will be open to viewing it so they can make informed decisions themselves.
The full-frame video contains original footage shot for the film and "exposé" footage of the feedlots,
slaughterhouses, hatcheries and other farm locations. The original footage is razor-sharp and colorful. The rest of
the footage varies in quality, from grainy undercover footage to shaky handheld shots. The purpose here, obviously,
is not visual clarity but dissemination of information, and it's effective in that.
The stereo audio is good. The voices in the interviews are clearly recorded. Again, there isn't much to the audio
The only traditional extra is a clip of a sanctuary staffer singing to the cows. Kind of silly. There is also an
assortment of clips culled from some sections of the film that can be played on their own once or on a loop,
presumably in case someone wants to use them as part of an awareness installation. There's also a trailer as well as
a trailer for The Witness, another animal
rights documentary released by Tribe of Heart.
Peaceable Kingdom is the rare production that could prove to be life-altering for some segment of its
audience. Over the years I've received plenty of mail from readers who thanked me for introducing them to a classic
film they hadn't seen before. I don't know what sort of mail Peaceble Kingdom will bring, but I do feel
strongly that everyone who can see it should. It is about all of us and how we live our lives. I can't tell people
what to do but to make decisions based on willful ignorance is wrong. That the Farm Sanctuary folks still have hope
that things can change is testament to their incredible optimism. They aren't robotic ideologues; In fact, the film
shows them to be quite the opposite. This is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, tough film that offers images that
will stay with you long after the video is done.