Look out, that’s a banana peel being tossed
January 23, 2009
Look out for banana peels.
In an unusual animal-rights demonstration midmorning Friday on Main Street, a person dressed in a gorilla suit repeatedly tossed a banana peel on the sidewalk as Sundance Film Festival crowds passed by. In dramatic fashion, the person raised an arm and threw the peel on the ground, retrieving it and picking it up before doing it again.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals staged the demonstration, saying primates should not be used in films.
Animal-rights groups often demonstrate during Sundance, but they typically target people wearing clothes made of fur or leather and stores that sell the goods. It is rare that they challenge the film industry itself during Sundance.
"I don’t think it really takes a genius to see transporting an animal in a cage . . . when they were made to be in the jungle or rainforest is completely unnatural," said Nicole Matthews, a campaigner for the group, which is widely known by its acronym, PETA.
She said the primates that perform in films are "denied everything that’s natural to them." They are not kept in spacious habitats and are unable to build complex social relationships they would in the wild, Matthews said.
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Three PETA campaigners participated on Friday, and a volunteer for the group dressed in the gorilla suit. The person in the gorilla suit held a sign urging filmmakers to "Cast fake, for the animals’ sake." Others wore PETA T-shirts and carried bags with the organization’s logo.
They brought approximately 12 pounds of bananas to the event and handed some of them out to people who passed by. Matthews said the Friday demonstration was the only one PETA scheduled during Sundance. It was staged outside the building Sundance uses for the Filmmaker Lodge, a popular gathering place during the festival that draws industry crowds and the media.
There was a brief encounter between the demonstrators and a Sundance staffer who was in the doorway of the Filmmaker Lodge. The staffer asked them not to block the doorway. The PETA group agreed not to block the door, but they insisted they could stay on the sidewalk since it is a public place.
Two members of the Park City Police Department, neither in uniform, monitored the protesters. The police did not report problems.
Matthews said she hopes filmmakers adopt new methods of putting primates in movies instead of using captive ones. She said they could use computer-generated primates, animation or stock footage instead of living ones.
"In the film industry, time is money, and trainers must make these animals perform in as few takes as possible," she said, adding that the animals face a "lifetime of confinement and being forced to perform involuntarily."
A Denver-based not-for-profit group called American Humane monitors the entertainment industry’s use of animals and is involved with more than 1,000 productions annually. Karen Rosa, the director of the film and television unit of American Humane, said in an interview the organization recognizes there are issues with keeping primates in captivity.
Rosa said primates are "treated quite well" when American Humane is on the set. She said, though, when primates are trained outside of the movie set, the trainers might use a heavy-handed approach.
She said, meanwhile, there are fewer primates available to filmmakers because many that have been trained are retiring from the entertainment industry. Trainers are not keeping pace with younger animals, she said.
"We are seeing a decline in the use of primates because there are just not many left to be used in filmed entertainment," Rosa said.