Unlocking the Cage: It’s Time Has Come

This week’s film – “Unlocking The Cage” is a powerful, topical documentary about something most of us rarely or never think about: what rights do non-humans have in this world?

Unlocking the Cage debuted at Sundance 2016, receiving a standing ovation.

Filmmakers Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker are highly respected documentarians who have been making films since the 60’s. Their signature style is to tell a compelling story about people who are passionate about what they do. Penny, as he’s known, was the pioneer of “cinema verité” in the 1960s. His earliest masterpiece, Don’t Look Back, told the story of Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in England. Following that came a movie about David Bowie, and then The War Room, a behind-the-scenes look at Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. In 2012, Pennebaker won a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, and Chris Hegedus has won multiple awards for her work.

Unlocking the Cage tells the story of attorney Steven M. Wise, Founder and President of the Nonhuman Rights Project, who has spent 25 years putting together a plan to “punch through the legal wall that separates all humans from all other animals.” If that sounds like it might be a recipe for a rather dry documentary, it’s the genius of Pennebaker and Hegedus that what emerges is a gripping, rollicking adventure tale about one man’s struggle for justice.

The movie opens in a New York State appellate courtroom, where, for the first time in history, an attorney goes before a group of high court judges to argue that the “Great Writ” of habeas corpus should be applied on behalf of a chimpanzee, Tommy, who’s living in a small cage in a dark shed at a rundown trailer park.

Tommy, Wise tells the court, is a cognitively complex, autonomous being who should be recognized as having the legal right to bodily liberty so that he can be freed from captivity and taken to a sanctuary where he can live with other chimpanzees in a setting that’s as close to the wild as possible.

The next screenings are Saturday, 10/15 – Monday, 10/17, at 7:30 pm. All screenings are at Spring St. Gallery, 110 Spring St. Saratoga Springs.