Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn’s film, Cowspiracy, could have ended up being just another little-known documentary, but they got lucky.
The filmmakers attracted a big name in the environmental movement last year. Leonardo DiCaprio, the outspoken actor, became executive producer for the Netflix release of the film in August 2015.
It was filmmaker Darren Aronofsky who first brought the documentary to the attention of DiCaprio. In the middle of watching the film, Aronofsky called DiCaprio and said, “Hey, you’ve got to watch this movie. It’s incredible.”
Andersen said in a recent phone interview that the result was a call from DiCaprio’s “right-hand woman,” who told them that the superstar screened the documentary and want to put it on Netflix right away. “He called Netflix personally and he wanted to be executive producer for our Netflix release.”
Kuhn said DiCaprio and the Netflix release validated Cowspiracy. “Any time you have a big name like that to a film, it just gives a lot more weight, for sure.”
Because the actor attached his name to the project, DiCaprio’s lawyers pushed the two filmmakers to tighten up their facts, making sure they had double and triple sources for their facts. “
“The film was rock solid and all we did with the new edit was update,” Andersen said.
Still, Cowspiracy is controversial.
In the film the two San Francisco Bay area vegans set out to show that environmental degradation of ranching - particularly cattle farming - is causing to the planet.
The documentary also placed the two self-taught documentary filmmakers at odds with many of the largest environmental organizations as Andersen and Kuhn accuse them in the film of ignoring the problem in favour of issues that are more attractive to donors.
After the 2014 film’s release, Greenpeace - whom Andersen said he tried unsuccessfully to interview for the documentary - issued a strongly worded rebuttal.
“We all share Cowspiracy's concerns about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and it's great that these issues are being given more attention,” wrote Robin Oakley, program director of Greenpeace UK (and a vegan himself) in the fall of 2015. “However, our US office declined to take part in this project as they felt sure our position would be misrepresented (as it has been for several other organisations featured in the film). But, sadly, our reasons for not taking part have been misrepresented as well, in an attempt to create a sensationalist conspiracy where none exists.”
Oakley went on to write that Greenpeace campaigns on cattle ranching, animal feed, destructive fishing and encourage people to eat less or no meat or fish.
Bristled Oakley: “The implication in Cowspiracy that we take money from the meat industry is completely false and baseless – we are 100% independent and accept no money from companies or government.”
Sierra Club, another group that is criticized in the documentary, took a more conciliatory approach. noting that unsustainable agricultural practices are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and as Cowspiracy, pointed out, too often overlooked as a potential source of reductions.
Andersen and Kuhn are unrepentant. They know the film made them outliers with the world's biggest environmental organizations and they don’t much care.
Having already confronted the cattle ranching industry in Cowspiracy, Andersen and Kuhn are preparing to take on Big Pharma and the health industry in their next film, which will look at the health consequences of eating meat.
Titled What the Health, the film examines where the pharmaceutical industry, the meat and dairy industry and health organizations collide.
“Where Cowspiracy focuses on environment and how raising animals for food is the leading cause of environmental destruction, the same thing is happening with health,” Andersen said.
He compares the documentary, which they just recently announced, to Gasland which looked at communities that fracking impacted.
The new film will examine “highly processed industrial animal foods” and the impact on peoples’ health and the greater community while also exploring “why leading health organizations continue to promote the industry despite countless medical studies and research.”
“It’s a very exciting film, tons of facts like Cowspiracy. We really dig deep, deep, deep,” said Andersen.
In a trailer for the film, Kuhn looks at the camera and says, “The film follows Kip on a journey, finding out about the most destructive industry facing our health today. “We’re putting ourselves at great personal risks by speaking about this. Activists in the United States have been persecuted, followed, wiretapped and even imprisoned for speaking out.”
DiCaprio won’t be involved with their new production as the filmmakers say he strictly focuses on the environment while their new documentary will be more around health matters.
During the course of the interviewl with National Observer, Andersen added his voice to the many opposed to British Columbia’s wolf cull.
“The wolf cull is a sad thing,” Andersen said. “I think it really comes down to this human-centric idea of ecology, that human beings think they can control and dominate ecosystems and it’s for human desires.”
Andersen said people believe there are too many predators, whether it’s wolves or coyotes, and it’s an idea that comes up whenever the animals threaten human industry. “They threaten the hunting of the livestock industry.”
The British Columbia government’s multi-year wolf kill that’s targeting nearly 500 wolves has been the subject of sharp criticism from everyone from international retailer, Lush, to conservation groups such as the Wildlife Defence League.
Andersen noted that in the United States ranching is so heavily subsidized by the federal government “that we are actually paying ranchers to destroy the environment.
“So we must pay them not to. We can pay them to be true stewards of the land would be one solution.”
The filmmaker pointed out that new technologies come along all the time and replace entire industries while economies adapt and shift to make room for those disruptive technologies and new jobs.
“I think that the same thing that’s going to happen. You can no longer make excuses of peoples’ livelihoods depending upon a destructive industry to justify the destruction that’s caused. You have to move forward to true sustainability.”