“Behind the Mask” is a compelling documentary detailing the methods used by the ALF in order to free animals from the daily tortures of experimentation and other forms of cruelty. Interviews with ALF activists, members of PETA, and many other important figures in the animal rights movement make this a great introduction to the ALF and the entire movement in general.
Behind the Mask”, a documentary by Los Angeles animal rights lawyer Shannon Keith, takes a look at the methods used by the ALF, who operate as individuals or in small groups in over 20 countries throughout the world, most heavily in the U.S. and the U.K. The documentary’s premier was well received by a near capacity crowd at the 11th street Loews theater in Manhattan on Thursday, September 14th.
Labeled as terrorists by the U.S. government and freedom fighters by the animal rights community, the Animal Liberation Front’s aim is to free as many animals as possible from places of abuse. Outfitted in Army fatigues and Ski-Masks, activists carry out anonymous raids on university laboratories, factory farms, and fur farms in order to place animals in safe homes where they can live free from unnecessary suffering. The ALF has been known to set fire to empty buildings that house animal experimentation labs as well as sabotage expensive research equipment, in efforts of inflicting economic damage to animal exploiters. The ALF does however claim to be a nonviolent movement, with the primary goal of exposing and putting an end to atrocities committed against animals behind closed doors. The ALF also proudly states to have never hurt a human or animal in any of their daring raids, which has included the release of 6,000 Mink from a fur farm in southern England in 1998.
The film captures animals ranging from mice and rats to dogs, cats, and monkeys being used for the testing of pharmaceuticals, household and cosmetic products, many of which never see the shelves. Among several experiments documented was that of a newborn Macaque monkey, whose eyelids were stitched shut while intrusive sound effects were blasted into his ears during a blindness study. ALF members filmed themselves while breaking into a research facility at the University of California to rescue the monkey and ultimately introducing it to an adoptive mother where he began a slow physical and psychological recovery. This was a rare happy ending in an industry where an estimated 20 million animals are killed each year.
Members of PETA, the largest animal rights organization in the world were in attendance for the film along with other animal rights groups and activists. Following the screening, PETA’s President, Ingrid Newkirk spoke on how it is the responsibility of people to reach out to the billions of animals killed for food, fur and experimentation every year. Newkirk went on to say that although some medical advances have been made due to cruel experimentation most are possible without animal testing. In fact, many of the major medical breakthroughs such as the isolation of the virus that causes AIDS, the discovery of the connection between cholesterol and heart disease, as well as the link between smoking and lung cancer were not results of animal testing. During research on the disease polio, in which a large number of monkeys were killed, the primates infected with the disease showed minimal hope for a cure while the real breakthrough came when scientists learned to grow the virus from cells.
Bed-Stuy resident Olivia Lane, who works as a content manager for the website supervegan.com, called the film inspiring and said that people should do anything within their power to help animals in need, be it breaking and entering or simply not supporting the leather or fur industries.
In the courtroom, director and attorney Shannon Keith represents animal rights activists and prosecutes animal abusers. She claims that great change is needed in order to get the few laws protecting animals to be enforced the way they need to be. The ALF and Keith both believe that breaking the law is often times necessary to create change. In the film, parallels are drawn to what at the time seemed like extremist measures during the civil rights movement. The ALF, PETA and other animal rights organizations are aware of the uphill battle that still lies ahead and believe in civil disobedience as a necessary tool to draw attention to the issue and for change to finally come about.
Newkirk wrapped up her speech by urging the audience to get involved in putting an end to all animal exploitation in whatever way they feel comfortable. Weather its writing letters to newspaper editors, handing out leaflets at local events, or simply questioning the lady in the subway wearing the fur coat. If enough people get active, human lives can be improved without animals suffering.