By Thomas White.
Hogwood is an unflinching documentary which uncovers the shocking conditions under which animals are subjected to in the factory pig farming industry. We follow activists and campaigners from the animal welfare group Viva! as they go undercover to investigate one such facility in particular, the somewhat quaintly named Hogwood farm.
Presenting and narrating the film is Jerome Flynn, best known for his roles in the BBC series Ripper Street and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Having a celebrity attached to any independent project is a practical and often necessary requirement in order to secure funding and backing.
Hard-hitting films like this can, however, run the risk of shifting the focus away from the urgency of their message and distract the audience by involving a media personality with their own personal agenda. This is not the case with Flynn. A vegetarian since the age of 18 and patron of the Vegetarian Society, as well as joining animal rights organisation PETA, he is clearly a passionate and legit advocate for the cause. He speaks with a respectful balance of urgency and appeal, suitably objective but not emotionally detached.
Juliet Gellatley, an animal rights activist and the founder of Viva!, is our guide through the narrative, explaining with measured fervour each stage of the organisation’s fight to expose well known but hidden truths in an industry devoid of compassion towards the animals it produces on a mass scale. Her emotion is palpable, at times clearly struggling to temper her frustration and anger as she delivers the facts and findings in a truthful, non-divisive way.
Gellatley’s commendable determination and hands-on approach are a credit to the film’s acclaim. She shows qualities not always communicated as successfully in similar formats.
As well as those involved at Viva! are a host of other interviewees, ranging from doctors, farmers and medics, all experts in their respective fields, each offering intelligent and clear analyses explaining the topics raised. Equally included are representatives from the large agricultural corporations in question, each with their own share of substantiating data and official statements.
Director Tony Wardle’s film covers and explores each argument as best it can in its short running time, being understandably brief on some issues which could have been interesting to get deeper into, for example the more legally grey areas and standards and practices further down the production line.
Hogwood is a tough watch which pulls no punches. Viva!’s discoveries show horrific evidence of extreme animal cruelty, mistreatment and untreated disease, as well as particularly distressing scenes which highlight the inordinate suffering the pigs endure. There is an undeniable shock factor, a tried and tested controversial tactic, though justified in this case and difficult to avoid in order to drive home the film’s message in such a powerful way.
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