For the first time ever, a major international film festival has launched a category dedicated to animal rights. In October, 2015, the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) will feature “Compassion, Justice & Animal Rights,” a program that, according to organizers, provides a platform for filmmakers “to share meaningful information, stories of inspiration and tools for creating a safe and humane world for animals.”
“The high quality films chosen by organizers will not only encourage discussion about how we view and treat animals, but will also help viewers make more compassionate choices in their day-to-day lives,” said Zelda Penzel, a longtime festival supporter who worked with organizers to create the category. “I strongly believe that these films have the potential to change hearts and minds.”
The description of the program on the festival’s website is, in and of itself, a tool to educate mainstream audiences about the plight of animals: “In the 21st century, billions of animals continue to be exploited for our food, clothing, labor, research and entertainment. They are denied their basic right to life and fundamental protections against violence and cruelty.”
While 2015 is the first year that the festival has dedicated an entire category to animal rights, organizers have included animal rights films in recent years, including Virunga and Emptying the Skies, documentaries about the plight of mountain gorillas and songbirds. It was the large turn out and the engaging Q&A sessions at these screenings that convinced festival organizers to shine a brighter spotlight on animal rights.
The 2015 festival will feature three narrative or documentary films about animal rights, including The Champions, which follows the story of the pit bulls rescued from NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring. The Champions has its world premiere at the festival.
For her part, Ms. Penzel, who endows the festival with an award for an animal rights film each year, is not surprised that the films about the plight of animals have been so well received. After all, she says, “Animal rights is the social justice movement of our time.”
Alec Baldwin, the newly appointed Chairman of the Board of HIFF and a longtime spokesman for animal rights issues, has indicated that he plans to lend his support to the category.