D.A. Pennebaker And Chris Hegedus On Their New Doc, Unlocking The Cage

by Cynthia Biret

Unlocking The Cage offers an intimate look at an unprecedented battle to obtain the status of legal personhood for animals. Co-directed by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, the film follows attorney Steven Wise and his legal team, The Non Human Rights Project, into the courtroom and behind the scenes of this truly historic crusade.

From Don’t Look Back to The War Room and Startup.com, the acclaimed filmmakers are famous for their unobtrusive documentary style. One of the pioneers of Direct Cinema, Pennebaker was honored with a Lifetime Academy Award and Oscar nominated Hegedus received the DGA Outstanding Directional Achievement award.

While the idea may seem incongruous to some, the narrative cleverly incorporates scientific evidence from primatologists around the world and affidavits demonstrating that chimpanzees are extraordinarily cognitive complex creatures. Selecting his clients from captive chimpanzees in roadside zoos or private homes, Wise argues that they have the capacity for limited personhood rights using writs of habeas corpus [A writ of habeas corpus is used to bring a prisoner or other detainee (…) before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful. Wex Legal Dictionary].

This dramatic course of action may forever alter not only the way we perceive animals, but is also at the heart of their destiny, paving the ground against animal abuse.

“It’s a hell of a war,” declares Wise. “It’s going to be a lot of battles in the war, but it’s time to begin.”

CYNTHIA BIRET: It’s an unusual cause to pick up for an attorney, but it’s even more unusual for filmmakers to decide to document this story, as it might take many years to unfold.

CHRIS HEGEDUS: I know, and that was some of the challenges we had to face. Unfortunately I was a little bit ignorant about the law and did not realize that it would go on for so long. Plus, in the course of making the film our daughter decided to change careers and apply to law school, and ended up being away for three years.

BIRET: How did you originally hear about Stephen Wise?

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To read the rest of this interview, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/unlocking-the-cage/

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