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Anti-fur documentary 'Skin Trade' debuts with celebrity support in Westwood

June 11, 2010 |  8:22 am

Fur

"Skin Trade," a new independent documentary lambasting the fur industry and those who condone its practices, had its Los Angeles premiere Thursday night at the Majestic Crest Theater in Westwood.

The film, directed by Shannon Keith, an animal rights attorney and founder of the nonprofit organization Animal Rescue, Media & Education (ARME), strives to answer the question of why fur is still a part of modern fashion — despite the well-documented cruelties of fur farming.

"I just could not believe that people were still wearing fur," Keith said before the screening. "I knew it was high time to make this film because these animals are being tortured alive -- it's not a pretty thing."

And neither is the documentary, which shows graphic, disturbing footage of animals being tortured (in traps, by electrocution and even via fatal beatings) between interviews with a number of notable anti-fur activists, including Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), environmental attorney Jan Schlichtmann, designer Todd Oldham, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, Overstock.com chief executive Patrick Byrne (who chooses not to sell fur on his website) and actor-activists including Alexandra Paul, James Cromwell and Jorja Fox.

In fact, there is so much abuse shown in the film, watching it — at least for me — became an exercise in self-editing. I had to cover my eyes numerous times just to give my senses a break from the brutal imagery (even so, I found myself tearing up a few times).

But then, showing horrific footage from mink farms is par for the course for animal rights organizations including PETA and the Animal Liberation Front. What makes "Skin Trade" a little different is its willingness to call out the fur industry's cagey public relations tactics.

For example, in recent years the industry has been referring to itself as "green," because skins and pelts are technically biodegradable. But in reality, making fur requires an enormous amount of toxic chemicals. "It's anything but green," actor and green activist Ed Begley Jr. says in the film. "That, for me, is green-washing."

The film also takes on the idea of fur as a status symbol. "These hip-hop stars, they're not enamored with fur," said anti-fur activist and former NBA player John Salley. "They're literally putting on an image, and the image is 'I've made it.'"

Cromwell, who starred in "Babe," one of the most famous animal movies of all time, boils the future of fur down to a simple equation. "We have a choice," he said. "The question is, 'Will human beings make the choice?' Just choose. Choose, and it ends."

-- Emili Vesilind

Photos: (left to right) Filmmaker Shannon Keith with Rep. Dennis Kucinich; Todd Oldham in a scene with his dog; Keith with actor-activist James Cromwell. Credit: ARME

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