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Do Donkeys Act? A Myth-Busting Film About Endearing Beings

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 7:17
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In “Do Donkeys Act?” donkeys themselves show us who they truly are. This film subverts the notion of the “dumb beast” and portrays donkeys as deeply emotional and caring beings.

I’ve always found donkeys to be fascinating beings. Three of my favorite books on these frequently misrepresented and highly abused animals are Michael Tobias and Jane Morrison’s Donkey: The Mystique of Equus AsinusAndy Merrifield’s The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World, and Jill Bough’s Donkey

With permission of David Redmon
Source: With permission of David Redmon

I recently watched a film called Do Donkeys Act?, the description for which reads:

“Burned, beaten, abandoned, donkeys look back at us humans with indifference, and bray.” David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s DO DONKEYS ACT— filmed over 5 years—subtly subverts the notion of the “dumb beast” as it captures donkeys communicating emotionally with each other in the midst of healing from human cruelty and neglect. A poetic text threads through scenes “acted” by donkeys, a rhythmic script commentary voiced by Willem Dafoe.

I was so moved by this film, I asked it’s co-writer, co-producer, and co-director, David Redmon, if he could answer a few questions about this myth-busting and deeply moving film, and he agreed. Here’s what he wrote as answers to the questions I sent to him.

Why did you make Do Donkeys Act? Who was involved in its production? 

We focused our lens and sound recorder on donkeys because of their bray. Late one night we listened to a YouTube video of a donkey braying, and at that point we knew we had to make a film. Their varied sounds are musical and enchanting. Ashley was pregnant with our first child so it seemed like the kind of film on which we could embark. Turns out we didn’t premiere the film until we had our second child! Sometimes these documentaries take a while to simmer.

What did you learn about the correlation between donkeys and humans in this film? How has this changed your perception toward donkeys?

Do Donkeys Act?’s ethno-poetic-animal-fiction takes its playfully self-reflexive cues from Jean Rouch and Chris Marker. Encouraging us to respect a major language barrier we might not otherwise consider—the mystery and intrigue of donkey utterances—Do Donkeys Act? invites us to “step into their shade, listen closely” as we attune to a series of dramatic performances in which we eavesdrop on donkeys speaking amongst themselves and to us (and audiences). Reclaiming the donkey from the indignity of centuries old master slave relationship in which the dominant image of the donkey has been stereotypically negative (stubborn, buffoon, jackass, stupid), Do Donkeys Act? elevates a denigrated and degraded beast to the role of lead actor and performance artist. To paraphrase Marina Abramovic, the donkey is present.

Where did you film?

We filmed at the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, England, Cork, Ireland, Guelph, Canada, and upstate New York.

What are your major messages? 

Do Donkeys Act? subtly subverts the notion of the “dumb beast” as it captures donkeys communicating emotionally with each other in the midst of healing from human cruelty and neglect. It’s about being with these beautiful creatures and experiencing their sentience.


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