Pulp Non-Fiction: Look out Channel 4

Ottawa-based producer Rob Thompson of Winter Films, is undergoing the curious experience of having his one-hour doc Wire (working title) turn into a media event which he describes as bigger than the actual $80,000 documentary....
November 1, 1997

Ottawa-based producer Rob Thompson of Winter Films, is undergoing the curious experience of having his one-hour doc Wire (working title) turn into a media event which he describes as bigger than the actual $80,000 documentary.

Several years ago, Thompson read about a woman in England who offered $15,000 to anyone who could live like a battery hen for one week. Apparently four chicken farmers thought they could earn some not-too-arduous scratch, but gave up after 18 hours. ‘This struck me as an incredible story to build a documentary around, one that could look at the double standard people have in regards to treatment of pets as opposed to animals in the food industry,’ says Thompson.

He set about issuing a similar challenge in Canada – $2,500 to whomever could stay in a chicken coop for seven days – and is video-chronicling the results. Two Ottawa residents won the dubious prize (out of over 80 wannabes) of spending a week in a cage which Thompson describes as long enough to lie down in, but not tall enough to stand. Their diet consists of vegetarian mash three times a day and water from a hose; amenities run to a chemical toilet attached to the cage.

Thompson reports that The Egg Marketing Board released a statement assuring that laying hens are very well treated in response to the media attention. ‘I plan to capture these events as they develop as another through-line for the doc,’ he says.

Asked what would provide viewer intrigue given the cage-dwellers restricted action, Thompson explains that the project has already shown itself to have a great deal of inherent drama. He shot the selection process, capturing the motivation of the cage candidates, among them a young woman who felt the experience would help her empathize with her father who was in prison; a couple willing to get married in the cage; a young man who had spent a year in the woods and thought it would help him re-integrate into society.

‘The image of two people trying to live like animals, and their daily struggle to remain in the cage for money will, I think, provide a fascinating story to build the rest of my documentary around. For me it all comes down to money, we let animals suffer for cheap prices at the store. We also let the poor, the elderly and the mentally ill struggle on a daily basis because we don’t want high taxes. I plan to shoot interviews and visuals that capture this.’

Curiousities Thompson turned up include a man dressed in a duck suit protesting outside a local bagel shop against p‰tž made from force-fed ducks. (During the protest, bagel sales went up 40%.)

Thompson reports interest from tvo for From the Heart, and he is also approaching Channel 4. Financing has come from small grants, including the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton and Ontario College of Art in Toronto.

Currently, Thompson is in talks with the nfb on a documentary on Minniejean Brown Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine who moved up from the States and now lives in Ottawa.

His filmography consists of 40 titles over 15 years, including: Video Revolution, a look at how video is being used by social activists around the world; Bonehead, how neo-nazis recruit young people; and Club Vivisextion, a short drama about a country girl who inherits a brothel in the city.

Also in production news:

-Straight from the Source

-Coup of the Month: No peace in Shangri-la

-Fighting over more than the bathroom

- Millennium Watch – 100 Moments of the Century

- Spotlight – Adventures with Adler

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.