With the internet slowly becoming a cat-photo-based economy and content providers creating human work days filled with animal cuteness overloads, it's a wonder that a slow, pensive film like Denis Côté's Bestiaire didn't come along sooner. Or perhaps, given it's thoughtful observation of beast behavior, it's really not that surprising.
Bestiaire, a 73-minute documentary, was the centerpiece to Friday night's Cinefamily and Mastodon Mesa-hosted evening of animalian panopticism that also included two short films, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family and Moving Stories , as well as an animal cognition expert and a live goddamn zebra.
Beginning with Primate Cinema, the crowd was treated to a masterful rendition of what a dramatic film made expressly for apes might look like. Rachel Mayeri's 15-minute monkey-movie exploration involved the participation of primatologists and actors in chimp suits and gave everyone a healthy and provocative “What the fuck did we just watch?” feeling reserved only for the most fascinating and boundary-pushing works. We're still losing a little bit of sleep over the very idea of narrative structure for primates. Seriously.
Following up was Bestiaire, another push towards the edge of cinematic thought and understanding. The film takes long, slow and deliberate looks at animals in various states of captivity. Rather than focusing on the human-like quaintness and the gut reactions of cute and awwwww-inspiring smiles, the viewer is forced to meditatively ponder exactly what it is that we find so fascinating about beastly bodies. (See our full review of Bestiaire here.)
Taking its name from the ancient and middle-ages concept of bestiaries, which were massive, illuminated tomes summing up pre-scientific thought and understanding of animals, the film provides a new visual vocabulary where its historic literary counterparts gave symbolism. Not content to stick with our human fascination with live animals, the film vacillated between those at zoos and the remaining parts thereof in a taxidermists workshop.
It was oddly painful, even for some of us carnivores, to watch a taxidermist mechanically tear apart and reconstruct animal remnants after staring so intently at their live counterparts onscreen.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, animal cognition expert Jason G. Goldman did his best to answer some fantastical questions of a not-so-reality-grounded audience. “Do animals savor food like humans do?” No. They don't. Animals don't drink craft cocktails or give a shit about locally-sourced beets. “They tend to go for the most nutrient and calorie-dense foods.” And Goldman explained that they do so in a way that requires the least effort. So, in way, the majestic animals probably wouldn't go to high-end restaurants with cumquat-infused bacon — they'd probably end up at Jack in the Box. But again, they're animals, and that somehow seems difficult to comprehend in a post-Lolcat world.
The most important thing we learned? Dolphins really actually are assholes. Thanks, Jason.
Oh and yeah, there was that live zebra on the back patio. While fascinating to look at given the context and content of the evening's films….zebras are less interesting than you might think.