Veganism is a global movement that rejects all kinds of animal exploitation. From time immemorial, great thinkers advocate hedonism, asceticism, vegetarianism, humanism. Veganism is at the crossroads of these responsible and mindful schools of thought. Socrates, Pythagoras, Epicurus, Plato, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Plutarch, and so many other philosophers used to profess vegetarianism. Pythagoras, who was opposed to animal sacrifice, was the first to initiate the idea that animal killing leads to human killing. Later on, great thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci and Voltaire followed the Greek sages‘ lead. The Vegan movement was precisely founded in 1944 in the United Kingdom by Donald Watson, who initiated the Vegan Society. Watson became vegetarian, and then vegan, before he died at the age of 95, after being vegetarian for 81 years and vegan for 60 years. The Vegan Society that he presided gave an official definition of “veganism”: “Veganism is a doctrine according to which humans must live without exploiting animals. It’s a philosophy and a way of life that tends to exclude- as much as possible- all kinds of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether for feeding, clothing, or anything else, and by extension, promoting development and use of alternatives without any kind of animal exploitation, for the benefit of humans, animals and environment.” What more can I say?
Estimates show that more than 525 million people worldwide do not eat either animal flesh or eggs: 40% of the Indian population are vegetarian or vegan, 2 to 5% in the United States and France and China, 6 to 10% in Brazil and Germany. In France, the number of people who have chosen not to eat animal in their daily life (including vegetarians and vegans) have been estimated at 2 million. Vegan people are young (18-24), which is a sign of a better future. Among them, 60% are women. Once again, it appears that women are less inclined to violence.
What about antispeciesism ?
Speciesism is an heresy. It can be compared to what racism and sexism are respectively to race and sex, which means the willingness to serve the benefits of some groups to the detriment of others, generally the weakest. The speciesist ideology uses real or imaginary differences as a pretext, with no logical connection to what they should justify. Speciesism imposes exploitation and use of animals by humans in ways that would not be accepted if the victims were humans or pets. Speciesists will also prefer animal species over others (different according to cultures and regions).
Out of compassion, for its moral and ethical dimension. Nothing predisposed me to it. I come from a village in inland Corsica, where hunting and fishing and livestock farming are usual practices, but nothing comparable to intensive livestock production madness. We used to live in communion with all kinds of animals. There was no wanton barbarism. We raised all kinds of animals, sheep, goats, donkeys, rabbits, chicken, pigs, and each animal had a name according to its physical appearance or its personality (Biggy, Tiny, Speedy, White Spot, etc…). Everything was done so that animals were well treated, even though the bottom line was the reality of slaughter. That’s where we could talk about cognitive dissonance. These beings that we respected and cherished all their lives inevitably ended up on our plates. They were no longer considered as living creatures, but steaks or hams. Psychiatrists will love this.
How did your awareness grow ?
In 2012, at one of my film projections, as part of Marseille European Capital, a German activist against animal exploitation came to me and congratulated me for the work I have done. He thought my film was brave but regretted that I did not depict the intensive farming scourge, as well as the negative consequences of climate change. We agreed that he would supply me with some material (videos, texts, studies). That’s how I discovered the massive reality of animal exploitation. Health, foods, leisure, clothing, environment… not a single sector escapes the all-powerful predator’s tyranny who decides the planet’s fate to the detriment of every single species. Women, children, men, animals, nature, space, everything has become marketable. The race for profits has led us towards a major sixth extinction of biodiversity. On whose behalf should we accept this dictatorship?
Absolutely. Organized animal consumption has become huge and a violation of their fundamental rights is systematic. 100 to 140 billion animals are killed each year to be eaten by Humans. Furthermore, under despicable conditions. Happy slaughter does not exist. The path that I have taken has led me to hedonism, my pursuit of happiness and pleasure cannot be satisfied with those terrible injustices. Since 2015, animals are recognized in the Civil Code of France as living and sensitive creatures. Despite this legal status, massacres are still tolerated. Take for instance, bullfighting- 80 French towns obtained a preferential treatment under the guise of Heritage legacy. It is an obscene torture of living and sensitive beings, all in the name of tradition? Where is the logic? Where is the justice? In taking this argument to the extreme, why not revive circus games or human zoos?
FAERYLAND is the first vegan film. Would you please explain what a vegan film is ?
A vegan film is a work that faithfully respects vegan culture’s terms and conditions, at all stages production. The film begins with an investigation of animal exploitation, based on two years of research. We worked with whistleblowers, activists, interest groups and associations on five continents. From this base, we crafted the storyline. The entire scriptwriting process took the principles of animal welfare as its foundation. We built the plot based on the archives we had found, work we had done in circuses, slaughterhouses, vivisection, fur exploitation, bullfighting. Then came the filming phase. I had to aim towards the most ethical and environmentally responsible behaviors. Every effort was made to respect animals, environment, and biodiversity as much as possible, whether for the make-up and costumes and food aspect, or by means of shooting the film. Filming a 100% vegan film is impossible because modern industry does not allow it, but special consideration was given during the pre-production phase, and then during the filming to achieve a vegan-friendly and cruelty-free filming as much as possible. At the production level we took great consideration, reflecting greatly upon the choices made by our partners.
So, Faeryland points the finger at theses injustices, right ?
Faeryland tells a story, a legend, birth of life. First of all, it’s made to entertain in an intelligent manner. Our goal is not to bring moralization in the name of the promotion of an ethical and moral way of life. In Faeryland, each character searches for his own Grail. Each of them has his own differences, abilities, desires. There are animals that can fly, some that swim in the deep blue sea. Gods often reincarnate. Humans are unable to do such prowess on their own. Faeryland points out the differences and similarities that make human beings, not a superior being but a different being.
Gods have powers. They reincarnate, and like shamans they have the ability to enter a human or an animal’s body. Despite this, they are dominated by humans. Do you think they deserve such a destiny ?
Of course not. No victim could ever be held responsible for the violations perpetrated against them. Thinking otherwise would mean endorsing the theory natural selection and survival of the fittest. Faeryland emphasizes the supremacy of men upon other species. The narrator explains that nothing can justify this predation; nothing can justify those heinous crimes. The theory of Survival of the Fittest is not the law of the fairest. Any opposite belief is a matter of a serious megalomaniac or anthropocentric madness. Everyone should be able to flourish in conditions compatible with the biological imperatives of its species, in its own natural living space. This is the real moral of Faeryland.
Faeryland is built like a saga. We are tracing the story of the three Celtic worlds, which are the Sidh (the divine world), Faeryland (the earthly), limbo (the parallel world, world of magic). Why did you use codes from the Heroic Fantasy genre ?
Faeryland uses codes from the Heroic Fantasy genre as much as from the thriller, political film or from the novel of courtly love. I hope that someday I will have the chance to make such a film again, with as much freedom as with this one. Faeryland escapes all styles and gathers so many simultaneously. At the time, I lived in Dublin, and I was passionate about their mythological stories. A world of magic that offered coherence to History. A world not so unlike my island culture in many ways. My grandfather was a storyteller. He used to talk about mystical beliefs, superstition and paganism mixed with religion and our daily actions. He used to practice what he called “occhju” (the evil eye) and healed animals with plants and prayers. I witnessed scenes that would puzzle the most skeptical scientist.
The cast is made up of professional actors, as well as of animal rights activists. Also, Yves Duteil (who took his first steps in cinema), Mylène Demongeot, Souad Amidou, Emmanuel Djob and even Matthieu Ricard who was able to play himself. This is a very talented cast, wouldn’t you say ?
It is. This project has catalysed a lot of energy, skills and talents. Ariakina Ettori, Candice Ford, Isis Fouquet Abrial, Jeanine Piguet, Ludovic Salvador Isabelle Paoli, and Marion Ruffie are the main gods and goddesses but an army of actors compose the kingdom of the Gods. Faeryland is an advocacy for animal rights, which justifies Matthieu Ricard’s presence (Cellular Genetics Doctor, Buddhist Monk, author) who plays himself, and Mylène Demongeot, Honory President of the Refuge de l’Arche, run by the Huchédé family, where we shot a large amount of footage. Emmanuel Djob was acting in another film of mine when he was still a candidate on The Voice. Souad Amidou, grande dame of the film world, discovered veganism during a film showing in the French Senate. She wanted to be part of the Faeryland adventure, which made me really happy. Souad is currently converting to veganism. I have a lot of admiration for her strength. In spite her prestigious career, she never stops questioning herself. As for Yves Duteil, who has the major role, I have been convinced of his acting ability for a while. We have been in touch for a long time. He is a member of the support committee at the Institut Citoyen du Cinéma, of which I preside, and we worked together in 2009 on the “Maquisardes” video. I realized that at that time, his emotions had an incredible force. I told myself that I would really like to work with him on a full-length feature film. Faeryland was an excellent opportunity for it. I needed a narrator and the deep voice of Yves Duteil made him a natural choice for this part. And then, there were several nice surprises. On stage, an actress was in tears as she was replying to him. That’s the way it is, that’s talent. In the end, I couldn’t tell if Yves was the character or if the character was Yves. It’s obvious that I wrote the role for him; his acting was masterful, more than I expected. Yves is not a vegan and I know that his activism is less militant. Regardless, he isn’t any less involved with animal rights. Yves is an honored member of the Anti-bullfighting Alliance, who works for the protection of minors and the abolition of bullfighting.
Is Faeryland a quest for the Holy Grail ?
Yes, absolutely. From a fictional standpoint, once the gods paved the way, we wanted to stage a modern quest of the Holy Grail, comparing the commitment of activists to medieval knights. There is a part of self-denial, and a romantic idealism of animal protection. The fight is never for us, but for them, (those who can’t speak for themselves). It is why I asked actors to become activists and activists to become actors. We organized a combined demonstration in Paris on the square of the rights of man at the base of the Eiffel tower. We also asked actors to march against vivisection organized by CCCE2A. There will never be anything more real than these images that we shot, and at the same time, nothing more surreal.
Faeryland is a tale about the animal kingdom, nature and biodiversity – an epic saga of life. Why not simply say that Faeryland is the Earth ?
Faeryland is not exactly the Earth. It’s a fictive story in which we have used contemporary images. The goal was to engage the viewer in the story, from the animal’s point of view. The reality is often depressing and morose. I wanted to inspire optimism and hope. We are all the product of our heritage, whether good or bad, but the future belongs to us. Humans have the capacity to change everything. If we had agreed that Faeryland was the Earth, we would have had to decide that this film would not be made without animal cruelty.
An important piece of work was produced at the sound level. How did you accomplish it ?
Kevin Columbin, a young sound engineer came to apply for an internship in our company. He was so gifted that we finished by offering him the reigns of Faeryland. Kevin stepped in to work on the sound design, editing but also on the composition of one of the titles of the film. The original score was composed by Yves Duteil, Emmanuel Djob, Marc Tomasi, Stéphanie Valentin, et Kevin Colombin. Each collaboration is an encounter, and each encounter a source of wealth. For the voice-over, Janine Piguet came to join in with Yves Duteil. This lovely actress has a very special voice (she even sings a few passages of Faeryland). She was pregnant at the time when they were recording. We had to record her in Switzerland, in our partner studios Inred. It resulted in a recording of gold.
The photo of the film is very beautiful. You photographed gorgeous scenery, under the sea, in the most remote places. The costumes, the armour are magnificent. The actors and actresses are often very beautiful. What was your goal from an esthetic point of view ?
The goal was to show the beauty and ugliness, to let the viewer make a choice. The talent of the director of photography, Pierre-Marie Paubel, proved to do an amazing job. For the underwater photography, we worked with incredible divers, professionals like Julie Ouimet, Erwan Savin and Christine Azalbert. Faeryland took 7 months of filming all over the world, from Ireland to China, passing through Germany, Finland, the US, Africa, South America, France, Hungry, Corsica, the Pacific Ocean, the Mediterranean and the North Sea. The result, in terms of decor and scenery was at the height of our ambition. “I need beautiful images to chase away red blood” said the narrator, which sums up what we proposed to the viewers, finding the balance, while showing the extremes. We had the best costume designers, like my friend Claire Garvey, one of the best Irish designers. All of the scenes that were filmed in Sandymont (Dublin) were with phantasmagorical costumes. We had tailor-made costumes from Ghislaine Laurent, Brigitte Mattei, Elyssa Couture, Jérémy Buono, Gwani, Les Jupons de Tess, Nine ou encore François Tamarin (Best Worker in France). The period costumes were conceived by Les Artilleurs du Roy. The fantastic hairstyles were created by Marie-Laure Soulier and Séverine Maraninchi, the incomparable snapshots of Nicolas Cornu and Jacques Viallon.
Why didn’t you write a documentary? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just present the facts ?
Without a doubt, but we would have lost from an emotional standpoint. A documentary is often placed at a distance. I wanted the viewer to be at the heart of these victims’ lives, who happen to be animals. Even if a crowd of characters can stop the aggression, as opposed a classical narration, it forces the viewer to be immersed in their reality. Faeryland is an initiation story, one that invites surpassing oneself. We are aware that this voyage is difficult, but the reward is there…for those who get to the finish line. Mathieu Ricard established a contract with the viewer: “I only ask one thing, which is to not look away.”
People who are already vegans, do they need to see Faeryland ?
Of course! Everyone who trusts us will never see the world in the same way. It doesn’t matter what their eating style is or their way of life. Those who are in the animalist movement, like vegetarians and flexitarians (those who practice vegetarianism for health reasons), will reinforce their choice of consumerism. We should not forget that vegetarianism is still marginalized in France, even though it is not the case in many countries. It’s also why the main action in Faeryland takes place, most of the time, in Paris. Vegans, will discover a first vegan work in theaters, it’s an event, not to be missed. One could believe that they are already convinced and that it isn’t necessary to see Faeryland. First of all, it would reduce this film to a militant mission, but in fact, it is also entertainment. To consider that a vegan doesn’t need to see Faeryland would be like saying that an amateur of music, shouldn’t see “Woodstock” by Michael Wadleigh, because he already knows the music of Joe Cocker. Actually, the public hasn’t misjudged it, since the film was acclaimed during its premier at the time of COP21, in the Senate for the Rights of Man Day, and also in Nimes during the trial of Rodhilan (images of abuse by men and women in the arena). Faeryland is the symbol of this vegan generation from the beginning of the 21st century, who no longer wants human beings, the planet and animals to be capricious consumers. We know that it will mark the movement in France and elsewhere. The film has already been ordered in other countries (Germany, Canada, Chile, Argentina, …) Faeryland will remain an essential testimony for future generations, one that swings towards a world that is more just. We only have to follow the news to understand that society is at its wit’s end, and that it wants to live in more conscientious ways.
Are there any models that are less violent ?
Yes. We realize that across the ages the level of violence has been going down all over the world. However, there are still some sectors, like animal exploitation, where violence is incredible. The images that we captured are the reflexion of our society. My duty as a director is to show evidence of this violence.
Ok, but comparatively, “A clockwork orange” is a drama for “The care bears”. Why have you chosen this treatment ?
As for the images, we only filmed what was in front of us, as horrible as they were. Today, you can see ground up baby chickens or lambs quartered alive, making headline news with all of the media giants. You don’t need to watch horror films, you just have to look at the last investigation of L214 (a French association that denounces the mistreatment of animals) on the 8 o’clock news. A reality goes beyond fiction. The only violence in Faeryland that I take responsibility for is the one tied to the direction of the film. We did everything to create empathy and take the public to the gates of hell. They bond with characters that are not lions, cattle, pigs or racoons but rather Brigida, Yavana, Cathbad, Aisling and others. This way, they discover real violence, the one that we sustain because of our lifestyles. They will also understand that we have the power to adopt a healthier behavior, that all hope is not lost. They will also understand the ordeal of animals, feel their will to live and flourish. They are going to live this injustice of which we are collectively the craftsmen (more or less consciously). There is nothing gratuitous in the violence that we show in Faeryland. It’s a necessary evil. It’s up to us to evolve.
Have you received any awards for Faeryland ?
Yes, I’m very proud of this recognition from the world of animal rights. The last June 6th, in Paris, the prestigious Medors ceremony took place. It rewarded major actors who defend animal right. Faeryland received the award for “Best animal film” as we were in competition with “Belle et Sébastien” by Nicolas Vanier, “Je suis un soldat” by Laurent Larivière, “Le dernier loup” by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Wow…
What is the driving force behind Faeryland ?
Empathy is at the center of every step. The massacre will continue as long as we remain unaware of the tragedy that is currently happening in the world. The planet is dying of this schizophrenia that says “I love my pet”, but I tear the feathers from living geese for soft fluffy pillows. I slaughter foxes in China to have fur on my winter hood, I do testing on live animals because it’s less expensive (even if the results are worse for the patients). It is systematically the domination of the weakest by the strongest (even with humans amongst themselves). It’s time to ask ourselves if consumerism is synonymous with happiness, if these discriminations are normal, and if our enjoyment comes at a price. This questioning, self-surpassing, and this vegan proposition of a more responsible society breaks through empathy. Who wants to journey with us towards this new humanism ?
(pics Nicolas Cornu)