To raise and rise: a link that binds us all

23 August 2021

To Raise and Rise is a documentary by Oliver Dickinson inspired by the book by Jocelyn Porcher, Living with Animals. It’s just one of four documentary films we’re presenting at Cheese this year at Biodiversity House.

Industrialization in farming means large numbers, overcrowded barns and the use of machines where once humans would have worked directly with the animals. But there are those, like Laure, Nicolas and Annabelle, who have chosen a different path that guarantees a more dignified existence to farmed animals from the beginning to the end of their lives.

Their efforts are compensated by the the meaningful bond they’ve established with their animals: a bond that unites all the farmers we meet in To Raise and Rise. The documentary by Anglo-French director Oliver Dickinson takes this relationship and the story of these farmers as its core focus, exploring the philosophy of Porcher through these images and lives.

TO RAISE AND RISE: AN IMPOSSIBLE UTOPIA?

In our radically-industrialized world only the animals can help us to recovery our humanity. According to the director, the ability of people to coexist peacefully depends on their capacity to live in peace with animals. And so saving farming from total industrialization represents a sort of utopian vision for the 21st century.

It’s not the first time that Dickinson has chosen to tell these kinds of stories. Previous works include Caring for the Lagoon (2008), Harvesters of the Bay (2013) and The Forgotten District (2011), all of which have a common thread: the depiction of people who are rowing against the current in an effort to save the planet and its inhabitants.

Going against the flow

In your documentaries you always tell the stories of courageous people, people going against the flow, as if you wanted to pay homage to their efforts to make a difference in a self-destructing society. Why?

With To Raise and Rise I wanted to pay homage and give a voice to certain values, initiatives and life choices, to professions that I encounter often and which don’t have much of a voice. I admire the courage of the people whose stories I tell, their determination to live and defend a certain freedom, a human and natural utopia, some might say, in a world that risks drowning in individualism, in excessive consumption, exaggerated technology, negative energy… I normally make optimistic films because I need to believe in the future. And it’s important, as a director, to document these action, these periods of humanity, to reach as many people as possible while maintaining an anthropological vision.

Living and working with animals

dickinson

Why did you choose to confront the theme of animal welfare in To Raise and Rise and how did you choose the protagonists?

I’ve loved animals since I was a kid. When I was young I wanted to be a vet. The suffering and the wellbeing of animals are very important to me. Over the years I became passionate about cinema, both features and documentaries, and I eventually decided to combine these passions: films/documentaries that talk about defending nature and animals. After studying cinema and a decade in Nantes, my personal life brought me to Aveyron, a very rural part of France where animal husbandry has deep roots.

I decided to produce a documentary about a local group of farmers,  Des locaux très motivés. And among these farmers, there were herders. I was able to discover a kind of farming that went against the intensive farming so prevalent in France. I was reassured by this project, and so two years later I tried to make a longer-form piece: Un lien que nous élève. While I’m an omnivore, I am concerned about our respect for animals and nature. The documentary tries to respond to the question. “how can we consume according to our values?”

Unlike many producers, the farmers I met (without necessarily filming them all) have different priorities that aren’t just financial. They carry out their jobs inspired by the necessity of living and working with animals and the natural environment that surrounds us. For the documentary, I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to find a similar sort of farming all over France. So I did some casting for around six months. My “protagonists” needed to be passionate people with a strong bond with their animals. The filming lasted around a year. I believe, as the title says, that this contact with the animal world raises us, allows us to grow, to be better people. We need to preserve this richly-meaningful bond, just as we need to maintain those jobs which keep it alive.

Finding balance

What role can art play, whether it be cinema, painting, theatre or literature, in the defense of a balanced relationship with the animal world. What can it do for the environment?

Cinema can be very useful because it can touch us, motivate us, ask us questions. Historically it documents initiatives that are ofte hidden or underestimated by traditional media. Without wanting to criticize the vegan movement, for example, I’m made aware by my film screenings that some spectators discover within them a world that is often perceived as “the past” or impossible. I’ve noticed for years that the “official” image of animal farming (as we see in the media) is of intensive industrialization, where animals are closed in cages, mistreated, exploited like objects; an image that is all too often true.

But I also notice that beyond the “vegan solution” there is no alternative given. From time to time, people of every dietary persuasion come up to me at the end of a film and say “We didn’t know! Thanks!” As an activist-artist, I could say, I think it’s our duty to expose injustice as well as possible solutions, the alternatives (whether existing or hypothetical) before it’s too late. Proposing another vision, sharing our experiences and emotions as much as possible for a fairer, healthier balance.

by Annalisa Audino, info.eventi@slowfood.it

To Raise and Rise will be shown on September 20 at 4.30 p.m. at Biodiversity House, at Cheese. See you there!