An enthusiastic crowd of animal rights activists and curious filmgoers gathered at The Majestic Crest Theatre in Los Angeles for an Animal Rescue Media and Education (ARME) benefit and to view the premiere of the movie Skin Trade, written-directed by animal rights attorney and award-winning filmmaker Shannon Keith.
Keith was driven to make this film after realizing that consumers were being lied to about the real cost of fur, whether real or “faux.” “I knew people were being defrauded, but I didn’t know to what extent,” she said.
Cartoonist Dan Piraro kicked off the event with some gibes at those who feel a self-absorbed need to clothe themselves in fur, and set up a video from the band, The Faded who created the musical score for the film, and whose lead singer, Gene Blalock, also edited the movie.
Skin Trade opens on the fashion scene in early 20th Century San Francisco and proceeds with a timeline on the history of the fur trade, underscored with intermittent commentary from well-known animal advocates, including actor James Cromwell, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Skinny Bitch author Rory Friedman and fashion designer Todd Oldham.
Olham’s perspective is particularly interesting as he shares his experience of gradually being shut out of aspects of the fashion world due to his refusal to use fur. “With fur, you remove logic and compassion, and end up being a big asshole, that’s the problem,” he said. In addition, other fashion industry experts discuss how magazine editors perpetuate the desire for fur. However, more designers and one large online retailer, have stopped selling fur completely after being educated by groups such as ARME and PETA on how it’s really procured.
The story that Keith tells is especially gripping when she juxtaposes fur retailers lying to their customers with no apparent guilt about how the animals used for their products did not suffer, with grisly footage of foxes, coyotes, minks, rabbits and seals being shocked, clubbed and skinned alive.
Keith also highlights the story of Peter Young, an activist who served for two years in prison for rescuing 8,000 farmed minks before they could meet a similar fate. He remarked amidst footage of animals in cramped cages, when asked whether it was worth it to go to prison for what he did, he responded that it was, and that he figured he served about 10 hours for each mink he set free.
Keith also takes the industry to task for its recent branding of itself as “green.” Pointing to the environmental problems that fur products cause, Keith sheds a light on the dangerous practice of tanning, and how the toxic chemicals involved pollute the land and water, and have even been known to cause cancer clusters in the Northeastern U.S.
Keith concludes her well-rounded film with an empowering note: Congress is taking action. Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) has created the Truth in Fur Labeling Act to push for labels on fur that explain exactly how the animals that were used to create that coat or hat were killed. The bill still needs sponsors, and Keith, in a phone conversation with the legislator, promises to get the word out.
After the film, an auction was held to raise funds for ARME, and Keith spoke to the audience. “Everyone has something in them to make this kind of change. Use your art and your talent to do something for the animals,” she urged.