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Telling Their Stories: ACE Documentary Film Grants Help Give Animals a Voice

Grant awards documentaries that educate and inspire

All Animals magazine

  • Martin Guinness

by Michael Sharp

Finally free from the torture, Oliver the bear was now dying.

For years, large metal rings had been painfully embedded in his skin, holding a catheter into his abdomen. Infection had set in. His health was failing. And of all things, his convoy of rescuers was now caught in a massive traffic jam.

“Apparently in China, traffic jams can go on for days,” says filmmaker Martin Guinness. With the help of police, rescuers eventually got to a local hospital, where they borrowed an oxygen cylinder. “They actually performed surgery on the back of a truck to save this bear.”

The scene plays out in the documentary Cages of Shame, which examines the torturous practice of bear bile farming in China. In December, the film emerged from a record 88 submissions, from more than 20 countries, to win The HSUS’s 2011 Animal Content in Entertainment Documentary Film Grant.
“Literally, I screamed,” Guinness says of his reaction to the $20,000 award. “I thought, to hell with the neighbors, I’m going to enjoy this moment.”
The Eyes of Thailand, a look at one woman’s work to help elephants injured by land mines, took second place. The third-place winner was Whale Like Me, in which filmmaker and whale advocate Malcolm Wright documents his experiences onboard a Japanese whaling ship. The remaining finalist was Vegucated, which follows three New Yorkers as they attempt a vegan lifestyle and learn more about factory farming.

With nearly 50 documentaries to his credit, Guinness had long wanted to spotlight the bile farming of Asiatic black bears, known as moon bears for their crescent-shaped chest markings. Confined to small cages for years or even decades, the bears have catheters permanently inserted into their abdomens to extract bile, which is used in traditional Chinese medicines.

“It’s just one of the cruelest forms of torture that you could imagine,” says Guinness, who hopes that viewers get “indignant” and that the film provokes action against the practice. “I really, really wanted to draw the world’s attention to this intensely cruel and incredibly unnecessary thing that’s going on.”

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