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March 21, 2012

2011 ACE Documentary Grant Winners

Winners depict Chinese bear farms, an elephant who survived a landmine, Japanese whaling, and becoming "Vegucated"

  • A captive bear in "Cages of Shame," the 2011 ACE Grant winner.  Martin Guinness

  • "The Eyes of Thailand," about an elephant hospital, won second place. Windy Borman

  • Third place winner "Whale Like Me" takes an inside look at Japanese whaling. Bryce Gorark

  • A visit to a farm sanctuary in "Vegucated," which was a grant finalist.  Jessica Mahady

"Cages of Shame": The Break-Out Winner of the 2011 ACE Grant

From a rich and diverse field of almost 90 submissions from over 20 countries around the world, "Cages of Shame," a feature-length documentary by Martin Guinness, about an inspiring mission to rescue moon bears from a bear bile farm in China, won The Humane Society of the United States' sixth Animal Content in Entertainment (ACE) Documentary Film Grant.

Second Place: "The Eyes of Thailand"

Winning second-place in The HSUS's 2011 ACE Documentary Grant competition was "The Eyes of Thailand," directed by Windy Borman. The film focuses on the work of a veterinarian dedicated to rehabilitating Thai elephants who have been injured by landmines. Soraida Salwala, founder of the world's first Asian Elephant Hospital, combines a compassionate heart and a scientific finesse to create prosthetic limbs for the elephants, giving them a second chance to walk again. Narrated by actress Ashley Judd, "The Eyes of Thailand" shows the drama and the joy of this truly inspirational story.

Get "The Eyes of Thailand" on DVD

Third Place: "Whale Like Me"

Director Malcolm Wright's "Whale Like Me" received the third-place grant. Wright's cameras gained exclusive access to a Japanese whaling vessel, where he takes viewers deep into this harmful tradition. Venturing across the globe, Malcolm tries to comprehend a culture very different from his own in order to see if he can change minds about the mistreatment of these beautiful ocean giants. An up close and personal journey, "Whale Like Me" delves into this controversial issue like no film has before.

Finalist: "Vegucated"

Grant finalist "Vegucated," directed by Marisa Miller Wolfson, is centered on a challenge for three meat-loving New Yorkers to go vegan for six weeks. Wolfson acts as their guide as they learn the health benefits of humane eating as well as the unappetizing truth about factory farming. With its balance of humor, shock, and education, "Vegucated" manages to change minds and entertain at the same time. It is now available on DVD.

Bear Bile: Exposing a shameful industry

A panel of development and programming executives from HBO Documentary Films, Animal Planet, The Documentary Channel, Authentic Entertainment, Screaming Flea Productions, Gravitas Ventures, and Green Planet Films selected "Cages of Shame" to win the $20,000 grant. The judges highlighted the filmmaker's efforts to bring a largely unknown animal protection issue into the international spotlight through the powerful and engaging story of animal advocate Jill Robinson. Her tireless efforts free gentle moon bears from their lives of cruel confinement and shameful treatment in the service of China's bear bile industry, which drains the bile from bears' gall bladders to be used in traditional Chinese medicine.

"Race against the clock"

"We were amazed at the number of commercially viable animal protection-themed documentary projects that were submitted this year—the most we've had in the grant's 6-year history and a sure sign that the documentary genre is buzzing with filmmakers with something new to say about animal issues," says The HSUS's Jonny Vasic, director of the ACE Program. "'Cages of Shame' hit all the right notes by combining a tense 'race against the clock' element with a strong story, characters, and solid animal welfare content."

"When I first heard about bear farms I could hardly believe it."

"I'm proud to be associated with The Humane Society of the United States, and I'm enormously grateful to them for recognizing the inhumane and iniquitous maltreatment of bears in cages in Asia," says documentarian Martin Guinness. "When I first heard about bear farms I could hardly believe it. That humans could treat thousands of these wonderful animals this way—and not even for any necessary purpose—was beyond my understanding, which is why I knew that I had to make a film to draw the world's attention to the plight of these bears."

"Cages of Shame" is narrated by actor Peter Coyote and is currently in the final stages of post-production. The winners were announced at the 2011 HSUS Hollywood VIP Cast & Crew Wrap Party.

Past winners

Previous recipients of the ACE Grant include The Elephant in the Living Room" and "One Lucky Elephant." Both are currently available on DVD.

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