Monday the 23. of November local animal-rights activists organized a screening of the 2014 shock documentary Pels (´Fur´) in an effort to publicize the downfall of Norway’s fur-industry. Utropia was there to report.
When Pels was first shown last year on NRK, it caused quite a stir of the general opinion and was the talk of the town for some time. The documentary’s release date was rather well-planned as the government was then debating continued funding of Norway’s fur-farms. Despite the fact ultimately, no concrete action was taken, it did not quiet the voices of those, increasingly numerous, who wish for Norway to cease funding or outright ban the raising of animals (most often foxes or minks) for their fur. Following a rather well attended anti-fur demonstration in Tromsø just days before, the screening of Pels, organized by local activist, was as relevant as ever.
The Pels project was initiated in 2011 by animal-rights activist Ola Waagen and Frank Nervik, an unemployed psychologist. The concept behind the movie was to gather as much intelligence as possible regarding the supposed shortcomings of the Norwegian fur-industry, especially in regard to animal welfare. Many anti-fur movies and documentaries have been made over the years but the reason Pels is a one of a kind work is that the majority of the footage included in the documentary comes from a hidden camera inconspicuously placed under Frank’s clothes, during his infiltration of the industry, posing as an apprentice on various fur-farms.
While the movie is most definitely ideologically driven and could thus be said to be akin to a work of propaganda, the first-hand footage is straightforward enough to make it clear that the Norwegian fur-industry indeed isn’t as guilt-free as its supporters might say. Several times during the movie we see shocking scenes of disfigured animals living an appalling existence in conditions that no one endowed with even a shred of ethical sense would find appropriate. Several times during Frank’s apprenticeship we encounter breeders discussing the various ways they take advantage of a criminally inefficient regulating body. Through these scenes, it becomes obvious that the people working in the industry have very little concern for even the most basic welfare of the animals they exploit.
But what makes Pels into more than an all-out condemnation of the fur industry as a whole is the ´character´ of Frank himself. In various intermediary scenes, he reflects, in front of the camera, about what he experienced on the farm and how it impacts him. This is particularly interesting because Frank never ceases to question himself and the legitimacy of his deception. Far from being a thick-skinned professional activist, Frank is a scrawny, borderline socially awkward twenty something with no sense of direction but his desire to uncover the truth. As so many in Norway and abroad, he himself could simply choose not to face the ugly truth of fur-farming but, regardless of his own doubts and insecurities, he engages it more than anyone has ever done. This dynamic dichotomy between the shocking footage of the fur-farms and the more contemplative passage where Frank assesses the way his work impacts him makes Pels a worthy cinematic piece in its own rights and not a simple film of ideological propaganda.
Following the screening of the rather short (57 mins.) movie, at which fifteen people were present, the event’s hosts organized a short discussion (in English) about the legitimacy of the Norwegian fur industry and the moral implications of producing fur in such conditions. The talk, despite being rather short, was intelligently free from any ideological grand terms and instead revolved around the subjectivity of morality and the best possible ways to think of animal welfare in practical terms. After a while, the discussion came to a close and the participants were able to enjoy some tasty vegan carrot cake, which proved to be the most fitting way to end an evening of otherwise much graver considerations. Hopefully, if the numerous Norwegian animal-welfare activists continue to educate the larger public through events such as these, the government will have to finally challenge the unsettling status quo that currently shields an industry that has a lot to answer for.
Text: Lyonel Perabo