Directed by Liz Marshall. 14A. 93 min. Opens May 31 at the Carlton Cinema.
Early on in The Ghosts In Our Machine—Toronto director Liz Marshall’s portrait of documentary photographer Jo-Anne McArthur—the film’s subject admits to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her work. Given that McArthur’s chosen subject is the sufferings of the animals that our species variously uses for meat, clothing, product testing, and scientific research, it’s easy to understand why she may be deeply affected by the burdens of her mission.
Viewers of Marshall’s film—recently voted one of the top 10 audience faves at Hot Docs—may come to feel the terrible weight of empathy as well. Often upsetting yet visually striking, The Ghosts In Our Machine charts McArthur’s efforts to bring wider attention to a topic that most of humankind strives hard to avoid. In her travels across Europe, Canada, and the U.S., the photographer trains her lens on some of the most miserable corners of the animal kingdom, variously populated by minks soon to become fur coats, sea mammals enslaved by marine parks, and dairy cows deemed to be too old for any further use.
Make no mistake: we are an awful species. But what could’ve been a straightforward animal-rights polemic with a familiar hectoring tone is transformed into something more haunting and affecting, thanks in large part to the eerie score by Bob Wiseman and the gorgeous cinematography by a team that includes John Price and Nick de Pencier. Marshall’s precise, thoughtful direction also provides an effective complement to McArthur’s sometimes harrowing photographs, images that pose a very difficult problem to anyone who benefits from the exploitation of our evolutionary lessers.