TALKING FILM STOCK ABOUT LIVESTOCK WITH ALLISON ARGO

FOCUSING ON A LIVESTOCK FARMER AND HIS FINAL BATCH OF PIGS, THE LAST PIG OFFERS A RARE, INTIMATE LOOK AT ETHICAL LIVESTOCK PRACTICES.

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But that’s just the surface. Gentle, yet provoking, this documentary also shows how emotionally demanding the livestock farmer role can be. There are no stereotypes on display here. Instead, this is an honest depiction of someone who has tasked themselves with death as their business.  By no means an easy watch, but important, meditative viewing nonetheless, we think everyone could afford to watch this film.

LOWER EAST SIDE FILM FESTIVAL: WHAT I FOUND SO COMPELLING ABOUT YOUR FILM IS THAT IT DOESN’T BEAR ANY HARSH JUDGEMENT ON ITS AUDIENCE OR MEAT CONSUMPTION. IN MY OPINION, YOUR FILM DOESN’T SEEM TO HAVE ANY AGENDA WHATSOEVER. WHAT WAS YOUR INTENT WITH THIS FILM AND HOW DID YOU CRAFT THAT CAREFULLY MEASURED TONE?

ALLISON ARGO: I set out to capture a story, and wanted very badly NOT to push an agenda. I wanted the film to be experiential – to offer viewers the opportunity to walk in this man’s shoes for his final year as a pig farmer. I wanted to let the audience experience his daily chores, his interactions with the pigs, his struggle with his demons and the contradictions in his life. It’s a very personal journey, and I wanted it to be told entirely by the farmer himself. He never speaks to the camera; we are just observers of his life. We hear his stream of conscious, like a soft voice in our ear. The DP (Joe Brunette) and I often shot scenes from a distance, letting the action play out with a kind of objectivity. It felt more honest this way.

In the edit, we discovered that scenes often wanted to play out in real time, creating an organic, thoughtful pace. There are stretches where nothing is said. The viewer is given time to contemplate, and I think this allows them to make the story their own – to ask themselves the same difficult questions that the farmer is struggling with. The film definitely doesn’t tell the audience how they should conduct their lives. But I do believe it inspires viewers to think and consider their own core values - and whether their lives are aligned with these values. 

LESFF: YOUR FILM’S SUBJECT, BOB COMIS, DID NOT MATCH MY INITIAL EXPECTATIONS WHEN IT COMES TO LIVESTOCK FARMING. HOW DID YOU MEET BOB? WHAT DREW YOU TO HIS STORY? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT FRAMING THE FILM FROM HIS PERSPECTIVE?

AA: I met Bob through an essay he wrote. A friend sent me a link and by the time I’d finished reading it, I was in tears. I was moved by Bob’s willingness to examine his life so openly and honestly – even publicly. He was so clearly and candidly wrestling with his values and his demons. I had always wanted to make a film that would in some way speak out for those nonhumans who are trapped in the farming industry, and Bob’s story immediately hooked me. When I reached out to him about documenting his final year as a farmer, I was terrified he’d say no, but … he finally said yes. I don’t know that I could have been that brave. To entrust a stranger with your life story is either very courageous or very foolish. I’m eternally grateful that he did so. I think the fact that Bob isn’t what most of us would expect of a farmer throws us slightly off-kilter right out of the gate—in a good way.  He’s a thinker—kind of a farmer/ philosopher.

LESFF: YOU AND YOUR CREW HAVE ALMOST NO SCREEN PRESENCE IN THE FILM, WHICH GIVES THE AUDIENCE AN OBJECTIVE, HANDS-OFF APPROACH. WAS THIS A CONSCIOUS DECISION MADE BEFORE YOU BEGAN FILMING OR DID YOU DECIDE NOT TO INCLUDE YOUR PRESENCE DURING THE EDITING PROCESS? WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON A DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER’S SCREEN PRESENCE IN GENERAL?

AA: I think different stories invite different styles. With this story, I wanted to be as objective as possible—to allow people to experience the story on their own terms. With only one character (and a quiet one at that), it’s a very delicate story, and our presence would have been both distracting and overpowering. Because the farmer leads such a solitary life (which is a significant element), it was important to erase our presence. I wanted the film to be very purely his story – not imprinted by a filmmaker’s personality or spin.

I learned that farming is extremely routine. There was a sameness in his days that was only ruptured or disrupted by his trips to the slaughterhouse and his emotional turbulence. I wanted those ripples to be made by the farmer and not by us. Because there was only myself and Joe the cinematographer in the field, it was fairly easy to keep our presence and impact small. We filmed one week/month for nine months. It was a very intimate and quiet process.

Article by Kyle Ginzburg

Check out THE LAST PIG On Closing Night of LESFF, JUNE 10, 8PM at Village East CInema!

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