Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
How can animals possibly become entitled to any rights under human law if they can’t represent their own interests in court? That’s where they need US animal rights attorney Steven Wise, founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project. It’s Wise’s firmly held position that cognitively complex, autonomously capable animals (e.g. chimpanzees, whales, dolphins, elephants) should be granted personhood rights that would protect them from abuse, be it scientific experiment or captivity in ‘inhumane’ conditions.
The eminent documentary duo Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back, The War Room) capture Wise’s progress as he and his tiny support team try and fail and try again to figure out how best to make their highly contestable point – from the halls of academia to animal sanctuaries and zoos, and finally the courtrooms where Wise mounts a compelling case for chimpanzee clients Merlin, Kiko, Hercules, Leo and Tommy. This is a touching, funny and legally provocative movie: given that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, how about giant apes?