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CPH:DOX 2022

Review: Just Animals


- Saila Kivelä and Vesa Kuosmanen’s documentary is a provocative, heartfelt piece depicting animal rights activists’ struggle between idealism and reality

Review: Just Animals

Saila Kivelä and Vesa Kuosmanen’s Just Animals [+see also:
film profile
focuses on showing how idealism and the willingness to embrace a just cause must necessarily confront a harsh reality and people’s indifference. The documentary had its international premiere in the Nordic:Dox strand of this year’s CPH:DOX.

Saila and her sister Mai share common ideals – fighting for animals’ rights and saving them from the dire conditions they live in – but they take two wildly different paths in pursuing their goals. Saila explains that about ten years ago, she used to be part of a group of activists committed to secretly filming hundreds of animals stockpiled on farms and being exploited for human consumption. She spent three years of her youth in a legal battle where the prosecutor was seeking a jail sentence for her and the affected farmers demanded fairly high compensation.

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Several years after the break-in that led her to be prosecuted, Saila visits one of the farmers. While they show some relative politeness towards each other, it’s clear that the aftermath of their legal confrontation did not help them find a common ideological ground, except for the fact that Saila agrees that not all of the blame should have been put on the man or individual farmers, since practices involving animal exploitation are the norm almost everywhere. Meanwhile, her sister Mai has chosen to pursue a political career, culminating in her election as a deputy of the Finnish Parliament in 2019, also depicted in the documentary.

Kivelä shows great sincerity in disclosing the human and “technical” difficulties she went through, documenting different moments of her life as an activist. These are split into different “chapters” introduced by her sketches and handwriting, giving the whole piece a diary-type feel and freeing her up to give us the facts without too much linearity. This allows her to touch upon her childhood, and it is here that viewers can already sense some early signs of her commitment to embracing the cause – for example, one of the crucial episodes sees Mai and Saila’s father answering the question of why humans normally consume “dead animals”. We also get acquainted with her fellow activist Kristo, who still breaks into farms to document the animals’ suffering.

Overall, the narrative is compelling and manages to keep the viewer hooked. The addition of more “dreamlike” segments – such as one in which Saila is dancing in a place resembling a night club, but which ultimately reveals itself to be a large slaughterhouse – are effective and constitute a good “artistic touch” to what would otherwise be a more traditional piece of non-fiction.

The point of the whole effort is undoubtedly to raise the spectators’ awareness of the cause, but also to discuss the balance between activism, political awareness and the reality – which is often sad and overwhelming – that one must face, despite it all.

Just Animals was produced by Finnish outfit Tuffi Films. The Yellow Affair is in charge of its international sales.

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