Virtual Reality Investigation Exposes the Appalling Practices of Factory Farms The Documentary
“What I am about to show you is very difficult to experience; once you have been inside, there’s no turning back. This is your last chance to leave.”
That was the ominous warning by Jose Valle at the beginning of a recent documentary investigation done by an animal protection organization, Animal Equality, and Condition One, a virtual reality production company. The film, aptly titled Factory Farm, premiered at Sundance Film Festival.
This kind of footage is not exactly new. Animal activists have, for years, exposed the realities of industrialized animal slaughter. These days, groups like the Humane Society and Mercy for Animals have successfully prompted criminal charges, new legislation, and at the very least, consumer outrage by publishing such undercover investigations on YouTube.
Now, Virtual Reality technology has allowed Animal Equality’s films to take it even further.
The difference, of course, being the fact that they are now shot on virtual reality cameras, allowing the audience a 360-degrees view. In iAnimal, Animal Equality’s previous VR film, the viewer, guided by a narrator’s voice, experiences life through the eyes of a pig. Factory Farm, the new film, allows us to stand alongside Valle as he photographs a pig’s confinement, castration, electrocution, and eventual slaughter.
With the help of VR technology, we are able to get a fuller insight into the life of an animal bred for slaughter. For instance, we get to see saliva coming from a pig’s mouth as it gnaws at the metal bars of its crate and the bloodied tail of a castrated piglet nearby as it rotates around into view. We get a view of the reflections of workers in the pools of blood on the floor, as our gaze move upwards we see their faces as they go about their work.
We can also hear, via the headphone, the whirring and grinding of machinery in the slaughterhouse, the squeals of uncooperative swine and the yells of the workers whose job it is to push and kick them to their fate.
“Regular footage of animal cruelty just feels like you are looking at a flat window, which is easy to emotionally distance yourself from,” says, Condition One’s founder, Danfung Dennis. According to him, VR gets its power from the “command presence” it has over viewers. “When viewed in virtual reality, you feel you are actually inside a factory farm in close proximity to the animals,” he says.
VR technology, even though it has existed for decades, has only recently received substantial interest, with Facebook acquiring a leading VR company, and Sony, Samsung, Microsoft, HTC, and Google all having VR projects. Once considered as a potential strictly gaming equipment, Animal Equality and Condition One have been able to use VR technology to expose the dark depths of the meat industry.
Universal Animal Cruelty
Even though Factory Farm and iAnimal use footage from all over the world – the UK, Mexico, Germany, Spain, and Italy, the standardization of meat industry practices and facilities make each location feel universal.
“I have been inside factory farms around the world and they are all the same,” says the narrator, Jose Valle, at the end of Factory Farm. “This system of abuse has been designed only in the last 50 years, but it has been replicated globally.”
Toni Shephard, Animal Equity’s Executive Director, points out how these practices have become standardized. “In the UK, we have had some farmers and slaughterhouse workers watch the film at our events and all have confirmed that what we show is just normal practice, nothing exaggerated,” Shephard says.
Factory Farm and iAnimal, unlike most VR experiences, do not only reveal a place that is hard to see, they reveal one that was never meant to be seen at all. Places like these are carefully and deliberately hidden from view.
To get the footage, Animal Equity often had to enter the facilities to install the cameras at night when workers were not present, their efforts serving as a reminder on the powerful effects of bearing witness, to what the industry considers standard practice. As the New York Times points out, “Factory farm operators believe that the less we know about what goes on behind their closed doors, the better for the industry.”
Those entrenched walls of secrecy are rapidly being brought down by animal protection groups and what they are hiding, exposed to all and sundry. The only thing missing, at this point, is the smell.