Today, feature-length documentary Gunda is making its streaming debut. Created by Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky and executively produced by vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix, the black-and-white documentary zeros in on the life of mother pig Gunda and her piglets, telling their family story without narration or music. The family—along with a one-legged chicken and free-roaming cows—does not live on a factory farm but rather in an open barn in Norway. Throughout Gunda, Kossakovsky offers a long, intimate look at the animals as they develop relationships and interact with their surroundings. While Kossakovsky does not depict the family’s ultimate fate in a gruesome matter, the viewer is made acutely aware that these intelligent beings are slaughtered for food—except for Gunda, who is spared due to her celebrity status after the film’s release. “But Gunda, she became so famous … so many people stopped eating meat (due to the film) that the owner of the farm decided she will live until the end of her days,” Kossakovsky said. “So at least one pig is alive after this.”

Phoenix’s role in Gunda
Kossakovsky and Phoenix connected to create the film after the vegan actor delivered his historic, animal rights-centric acceptance speech after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his starring role in Joker in February. Upon hearing the speech, crew members of Gunda asked Kossakovsky if he had written it, given that its message was in line with the filmmaker’s own beliefs. After Kossakovsky explained he was not involved in writing Phoenix’s speech, the crew members showed Phoenix the film and he signed onto the project to help spread its message. During the 2020 Zurich Film Festival this fall, Kossakovsky was the first to reveal that Phoenix and his fiancé Rooney Mara recently welcomed their son and named him after Phoenix’s late brother and vegan actor River Phoenix. 

“A mesmerizing perspective on sentience within animal species, normally—and perhaps purposely—hidden from our view. Displays of pride and reverence, amusement, and bliss at a pig’s inquisitive young; her panic, despair, and utter defeat in the face of cruel trickery, are validations of just how similarly all species react and cope with events in our respective lives,” Phoenix describes Gunda in a review. “Victor Kossakovsky has crafted a visceral meditation on existence that transcends the normal barriers that separate species. It is a film of profound importance and artistry.” 

This week, Cinema Eye Honors announced Gunda as a nominee in the Outstanding Nonfiction Feature category for its 2021 Cinema Eye Honors Awards Ceremony scheduled to take place virtually on March 9.  

The film is now available for viewing for $11.99 through virtual cinema Film Forum and is scheduled to premiere in theaters next year.

Photo Credit: Gunda/Riccardo Ghilardi

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