The Arts

The Ghosts in Our Machine

The Ghosts in Our Machine featured image

Photo from

Liz Marshall, director
Feature length documentary starring Jo-Anne McArthur w/Susie Coston (Director, Farm Sanctuary), Martin Rowe (Publisher, Lantern Books), Lori Reese & Marcel Saba (Redux Pictures)

Animal rights is an issue fraught with emotion and political posturing. Should we be killing animals to satisfy our desire for meat? How about fashion? Would clothing be as exciting without fur and leather? Then there’s traditional blood sports: bull fighting in Spain, fox hunting in England, deer hunting in North America. Don’t they define our national characters?

Documentary filmmaker Liz Marshall has created a powerful new feature length documentary on this divisive topic, which cleverly evades dealing with many hot button issues directly. The Ghosts in our Machine, which premiered to great acclaim at Hot Docs, garnering a top ten spot in the festival’s poll of popular films, avoids grim scenes of animals being killed and hot rhetoric from vegetarian activists. Marshall’s tactic is subtle: she lets you into the argument for the rights of animals through the voice and photography of Canadian Jo-Anne McArthur.

An animal rights stalwart, McArthur has placed herself in risky, even illegal, situations in order to get the photos she needed to show the suffering of animals trapped and eventually killed by people. In one key scene, she and another photographer jump a fence in order to shoot scores of foxes caught in cages and being prepared, presumably, for their demises.

Marshall follows McArthur as she shoots other situations where animals are being abused. The filmmaker offers McArthur—and viewers—several respites when the photographer visits friends at an acclaimed Animal Sanctuary. McArthur’s evident pleasure when she’s playing with cows or dogs is palpable (and quite moving). She is also seen trying to sell her uncompromising photos to magazines. Eventually, she finds a sympathetic agency and a probable book publisher.

Throughout the film, McArthur remains composed and polite. When pushed, she does finally express her reasons for using photography for political reasons as well as artistic ones. By that point, it’s likely that “neutrals” will have understood why she’s an activist. Some may have come to espouse her cause.

One thing is abundantly clear. Liz Marshall has made a very strong statement without deliberately alienating anyone. The Ghosts in our Machine is a fine point-of-view documentary, well worth seeing.

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