Their best-known films are Don’t Look Back with Bob Dylan, The War Room, which followed Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, and Start-up.com, which chronicled the early boom and bust of the internet.
Now Oscar-winner D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus are making a new movie, Unlocking the Cage, about the Nonhuman Rights Project. For the past two years, they’ve been following Steve Wise as he works with the legal team to prepare the first cases, teaches and lectures about legal rights for nonhuman animals, meets chimpanzees and their guardians at sanctuaries, pays a visit to Tommy, who’s living in a cage in dark shed at a used trailer lot, and brings the first-ever habeas corpus lawsuits on behalf of Tommy and three other chimpanzees in New York State.
Pennebaker and Hegedus are now following those first cases through the appellate courts, and are planning to visit some of the scientists whose affidavits were a key part of the court documents but who live and work in countries from Sweden to Japan.
So, in order to complete the movie, the two directors recently took to Kickstarter to raise funds for the next stage of things. Their goal was to raise $75,000, but when the campaign closed, the total was $87,000 from 768 supporters. Congratulations!
The campaign was widely reported on, among others, The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone and Care2. And several well-known people in the movie business took part: Composer Stephen Sondheim gave away signed DVD copies of Pennebaker’s documentary about the musical Company. The Coen Brothers made a donation and provided signed copies of Inside Llewyn Davis and Down the Mountain. Movie-maker Michael Moore recorded voicemails for people who pledged $500. There were T-shirts from the David Bowie documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars for those who pledge $40 or more, and many more giveaways.
On the Kickstarter website, Pennebaker and Hegedus wrote:
We hope that by exploring Steve’s lawsuit and illustrating the legal and ethical questions it raises, Unlocking the Cage will contribute to the evolving debate about our society’s relationship to animals and, more importantly, why we should protect them.
We are very excited about this project. It’s a personal story of a man with an uncompromising need to change the system, a story that we want to tell from start to finish.
We’re delighted to be working with Pennebaker and Hegedus, and wish them all success in completing the movie and bringing it to theaters all across the country and beyond. Video.