A new documentary, Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story promises to take a stern look at the culling practices within Australia. The documentary’s directors, Mick McIntyre and Kate McIntyre Clere (Yogawoman, Aussies Rule the World) talk to everyone from farmers, to government officials, to kangaroo shooters, to the stakeholders at the end of the chain. The film has already received praise in the US from the likes of New York Times and Variety, and has even been screened in front of MEPs at the EU. However, in the run up to its Australian release, it appears sections of the media and meat industry haven’t taken kindly to what is on screen.
FilmInk sat down with Mick McIntyre to have what turned out to be a passionate discussion about one of Australia’s recognised icons.
How did you work with Kate on this film? Presumably you both bring your own ideas to the table about the film.
(Laughs) It’s very challenging, I can assure you. No, look, we’ve been making films as a husband and wife team for several years and we’ve figured out what our strengths and weaknesses are. I certainly couldn’t do it without her, we’re such an equal team. We have a fantastic editor we work with and we have this symbiotic relationship together. There’s a lot of arguing as you can imagine, but we just complement each other.
You’ve mentioned elsewhere the documentary was originally going to be simply about the kangaroo and the love hate relationship we have with them. When did the film that we now have, begin to take shape?
Well, we still think the film is about the kangaroo itself. We hope we’ve put across that this is a film about Australia’s national icon and what an incredible animal it is, and how lucky we are to have this national icon. Yes, it does report on the treatment of kangaroos, but as filmmakers we’re reporting what we uncovered. What started out about a national icon quickly became a much bigger film for us.
I think it was the second interview we ever did, four years ago, when we had a government representative tell us quite calmly that this was the largest animal cull in the world. And just the way it was portrayed by the government, it was a bigger issue than we realised.
What were your thoughts after hearing that? Did you decide to change tact or run with your original idea?
We still went with our original idea because we realised it’s still quite polarising. I’m Australian, I’ve grown up in this country. I knew that there are differing points about the kangaroo. We knew that was always going to be important to cover when making the film. So, we always intended to go out in the bush and talk to farmers and talk to governments. But of course, what we didn’t know was the extent of it and the determination to grow the commercial industry. What we thought was a culling issue, we learnt has changed to selling a product overseas.
What was your original plan for the film?
In our early research, we found the kangaroo was the third most recognisable icon in the world. Statue of liberty, Eiffel tower, kangaroo, it’s true. You travel the world, you say those three things and people will automatically know what you’re talking about. So, it is a celebrated icon.
The other thing we found was the top three things tourists want to do when they come to Australia: go to the beach, see Uluru and see a kangaroo. Of course, when you tackle a subject you don’t know how it’s going to work out, because that’s what you do as a documentary filmmaker. You go and interview as many people as you can, and as many stakeholders as you can.
When we found out these things, we were compelled to report on them. I think what we were shocked about was the lack of discussion in Australia about this. That this is an animal that’s subjected to intense cruelty every night across Australia. This is an animal that’s now become a product to be sold overseas, not an icon to be celebrated. There were all these things that were new that we felt were important to tell.
The press you’ve had for the American release has been extremely positive, are you surprised by the response in the media over here? I’m quoting from one article where you’re accused of using ‘shock tactics.’
When you say shock tactics… When a film shocks you, does that mean it’s a ‘shock tactic’ or just shocking? I was confused by that. Yes, there are parts of the film that are shocking, so I don’t know if that’s a tactic or we’ve just presented some new material that people didn’t know about. I think the viewer will have to determine that themselves.
Look, we weren’t surprised by the reaction. We’re Australians, we love this country. We spent four years making this film, we’ve had people tell us these responses to our faces before. People don’t want to hear this, they don’t want us to have this conversation.
The media, especially the slandering media, appear to be focusing on one aspect of the film. They don’t seem to want to engage in the other aspects, such as the cruelty and the hygiene of the kangaroo products. It’s interesting they’re only focusing on one part of it, because there’s a whole lot more that’s brought up in the film that they’re clearly not engaging in.
How did you approach your subjects to be a part of the film?
We had the great fortune of meeting such interesting people from all sides of the political spectrum. I enjoyed going out bush and talking to the farmers and getting to meet a brave lady who has been documenting the cruelty in the kangaroo industry for ten years. They’re incredible people and we were very lucky they were willing to tell their story. It’s a very powerful way to tell a story when you have ten years of footage to back that up. Of course, as documentary filmmakers, we were thrilled they’re willing to share it. It makes it a much more powerful story than we could make.
Then you meet someone like Lynne, who has been a professional kangaroo shooter for years. And again, hearing her side of the story and the eyewitness accounts of the killing of kangaroos. She gives an eyewitness account of how cruel it is. It’s important, as filmmakers, we get to back up what the film is saying.
And I’ll say again, the main argument that is being run in the media is not on those issues about cruelty because I think there’s no denying that the shooting of kangaroos is cruel. The way baby joeys are killed as a result of killing females with babies is something people need to know about. We presented that in the film. We learnt firsthand that the government’s own report uncovered that baby joeys are being taken from their mother’s pouch and killed by swinging them against the bulbar of a vehicle or stomping on them. These are things that are done in the middle of night, in the dark, in the middle of the bush. It doesn’t get the public attention of other issues. So, again, when we found this out, we felt compelled to tell people.
This is something that can’t be denied, it can’t be refuted. It’s in the government’s own report that this is how the baby joeys are being killed. It was shocking to us and it’ll probably be shocking to others.
And going back to farmers, considering their relationship with kangaroos, how did you approach them about the film?
As Australians, we explained to them that we were attempting to tell the story of the kangaroo. We told them that it’s controversial, and they know it’s controversial. They face it in their lives. That’s all we can do when we approach them. That’s how we approached everybody. Then we put all those interviews down and work out how we’re going to tell the story.
One farmer appeared to think kangaroos had a personal vendetta against him by damaging his land…
I travelled extensively through country NSW and Queensland, and I was shocked at certain sections of the community in Australia who hate the kangaroo. I had no idea there was a hatred towards this animal. I’m still scratching my head and trying figure out the hatred.
That instigated why we went back to white settlement in Australia, to try and uncover where this cultural hatred came from. It was important to us, as Australians, to realise that from the get go, white settlers had an issue with the native animals here. That they needed to be controlled. It sort of helped me realise why there is this hatred in certain sections of the Australian community. You’ve only got to read some of the comments on our Facebook page to understand how hated they are.
The arguments that they’re out of control, that there are too many are, in some instances, I think are just a convenient excuse for the hatred. There’s 30 years of science to back up that they aren’t the problem people keep telling they are.
And that leads me into the other thing we’ve realised is that the scientific community does not seem able, or willing, to have the scientific discussion that’s needed around this animal. In fact, the media you’ve seen, all it’s doing is slandering the scientists that dare to speak up on behalf of the kangaroos. This is something, as an Australian, I’m quite ashamed of. These are reputable scientists with credible scientific backgrounds that want to have a robust discussion and the government just shuts it down. I just think that is something we hope the film can generate, that there will be a robust discussion. Because clearly, it’s all about shouting and name calling at the moment. It might be good for publicising the film (laughs) but from the animal’s perspective, it’s not good.
So, you feel that this media coverage is clouding the true message of the film?
Well, I think so. And I mean, forget the film for a moment… We’re filmmakers, we want the film to be seen, but now we’ve become very involved with the kangaroo. I think that, as Australians, we are mature enough to have a robust discussion about this animal. Because, at the moment, it’s all very much about shouting and slandering each other. I think we’re better than that. This is our national icon. Why just the shouting and name calling? I don’t get it. Let’s just sit down at the table and discuss this. We’ve spent four years uncovering a lot of issues that I think need to be discussed.”
Do you think the concern is that this film is poking at the idea of what it is to be Australian and, in a way, like the British, they don’t like to be told what to do?
I think if this was made by someone else, I think they’d probably have a right to. But I’ve spent the last four years of my life, as an Australian, uncovering this. It’s done a lot to me, to discover Australian history, Australian culture, and an animal that we’re very happy to celebrate. We cheer on the Socceroos, we cheer on the Wallabies, we fly Qantas airline. It’s all very good when we need them. But what about the fact that they’re being so cruelly killed at night? For a product no one really needs? I just think that it’s all very convenient. And sure, we do have a history of not being told what to do, and that probably comes from our convict past, but I’m Australian, I’m concerned. This film brings that up.
Despite the heavy subject matter, is there anything good that you took away from filming where you could say, ‘I’m glad I met that person, I’m glad I saw that’?
One of the greatest experiences of my life was Sturt National Park. I’d never seen the big reds before. And they stand over two metres tall! I got to travel to Sturt three times and, from a filmmaking perspective, this was the most challenging film I’ve ever made. I think I used five different cameras on this film, which I’ve never done before. I had many false starts, many failed scoutings. That’s why we went to Sturt National Park three times, because we failed the first two films. They’re an interesting animal to film. But in doing that, I got to spend several weeks with this amazing creature that I never got to experience up close in the wild before.
I’ve done the African top five, I’ve done a lot of whale watching, but this animal is equal to any of those experiences I’ve had. I’m looking forward to going back there without having to juggle five different cameras. I just want to go and enjoy them because it was extraordinary. It leads me into how little is done to promote kangaroo tourism in Australia. We learnt that $42 billion was spent by tourists in Australia last year, and if kangaroos are in their top three list, we’re making it bloody difficult for them to fulfil that. Having been up in these areas to see this extraordinary wildlife, there’s zilch tourism information when you got to these places about this animal. I would urge the tourism authorities to change that because this is truly one of the great wildlife experiences in the world, and we’re simply not taking advantage of that.
Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story is in cinemas March 15, 2018.