Legendary Sag Harbor filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’s latest film, Unlocking the Cage, opens at the Film Forum in New York City tonight, Wednesday, May 25. The film will opens nationally in June.
For the new film, Pennebaker and Hegedus, known for the classic documentaries The War Room and Don’t Look Back, followed animal rights attorney and Nonhuman Rights Project founder Steve Wise and his team as they sought to expand the legal definition of “personhood” to include cognitively complex animals, such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants. This expanded definition would offer these animals certain rights and protections from captivity and abuse.
“When I began, people laughed at me—they barked when I walked into a courtroom,” Wise says in the film.
Pennebaker, Hegedus and their team captures Wise’s progress from academia to animal sanctuaries and zoos, and into court where he argues for the rights of his animal clients: Merlin, Kiko, Hercules, Leo and Tommy. “Captivity, it’s just killing these guys,” Wise says pointedly.
Unlocking the Cage captures a monumental shift in our culture, as the public and judicial system show increasing receptiveness to Wise’s impassioned arguments. It is an intimate look at a lawsuit that could forever transform out legal system, and one man’s lifelong quest to protect “nonhuman” animals.
“What we’re trying to do is change the way people view nonhuman animals, because right now it’s are you a human? You have rights. If you’re not a human, you don’t—we’re saying that’s wrong,” Wise says. “It’s a hell of a war—there’s going to be a lot of battles in the war, but it’s time to begin it.”
For tickets and showtimes, visit filmforum.org/film/unlocking-the-cage-film. Watch the trailer below.