I’m not usually one for one-sided polemical documentaries but for Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story, I think an exception is in order. The film, which hits theaters this weekend, is an eye-opening look at the plight of these incredible and adorable creatures. For animal-lovers, and fans of The Cove and Blackfish, it’s a must-see.

It’s worth the price of admission just to see these bizarre, huge, short-armed, quasi-deer-rabbit creatures jumping around, but directors Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre have made the film with an urgent purpose: kangaroos are, according to their research, being submitted to the worst wildlife massacre in the world. The film is filled with disturbing images of the animals being killed, maimed and abused en masse.

The irony that a treasured national icon of Australia can be so mistreated is the driving theme of the film; one that should cause quite a stir when it’s released Down Under. I asked the directors some questions about the film, which will hopefully prompt Australians to take a closer look at what’s really happening in the bush.

How did you come to make the film?
Kangaroos are one of the most recognizable icons in the world and have always held a fascination for the directors of this film. We set out to explore the wonder of this magnificent and unique animal. However we also recognized it was at the heart of a complex and divided situation in Australia.

We knew opinion was split around this famous icon and that would make an interesting story but once we started the research and interviews we were surprised to learn that millions of kangaroos are shot each year and sold for profit. It seemed incongruous to us that Australians, who are immensely proud to hold up the kangaroo as their beloved national symbol, would sanction their nightly killing.

Is the issue of kangaroo treatment an every-day discussion in Australia?
No, definitely not. We were surprised that the treatment of kangaroos is mostly unknown across Australia. That’s why we believed that Kangaroo would be an interesting film. We wanted to include all points of view in the film, however the different scientists, industry, farmers and activists seem unable to sit together to have a robust discussion about what is really happening. There is very little open discussion in mainstream media about the populations, hygiene or cruelty surrounding this Australian wildlife.

Is it something that most Australians disregard because there is no easy answer, when it comes to farmers’ interests and those concerned for animal welfare?
Australians love and utilize the symbol of the kangaroo on everything. What we found out anecdotally from filming is that many Australians believe that kangaroos are farmed and are a fast producing mammal. Both these opinions are false. Many we interviewed believe that if there was a robust national discussion revealing concerns about this wildlife, the general public would ask for more scrutiny and options surrounding the treatment of kangaroos.

Has the movie come out yet in Australia? If so, how have they responded? If not, how do you think audiences in Australia will respond?
No, the movie is not out in Australia. We expect a strong reaction to the film, given the historical and current relationships with kangaroos and the general lack of awareness. We want the film to promote a national and international discussion about the kangaroos.
You include a lot of very graphic imagery. How did you go about deciding what to use and what didn’t make it into the film?
As we were including all aspects of the kangaroo story we felt we needed to include this part of the story. We want to give the audience a full appreciation of what is happening in Australia. However there is a lot of more graphic footage that we did not use.
The video of baby kangaroos being slammed against trucks is particularly disturbing. You make the connection in the film, but I’ll ask: Are you hoping this sort of representation of abuse will resonate the way the “save the seals” movement did?
We felt it was important for the audience to see this method of killing the baby joeys that happens in Australia. The research shows this is how most small joeys are killed. We will let the audience decide what’s next.
Weird, random fact check: I once heard that Australian hunters sometimes nail kangaroos to the ground and then when they’re ready to kill them, do so, sometimes days later. Any truth to that?
Historical accounts record practices like this. It was called the “hip shot” where kangaroos were wounded so they couldn’t move – but didn’t die. There was no need to “nail” the animals to the ground with a shattered hip. This cruel practice “kept the meat fresh.” This doesn’t happen anymore as far as we know.

The film examines whether or not there is actually an accurate kangaroo population count and suggests that the kangaroo “plague” of overpopulation and the animals disturbing farmer’s livestock are just myths perpetuated by farmers, the pet food industry and over-eager hunters.

I’m inclined to believe much of what you contend in the film is true, but would you agree that there is some problem of kangaroo density? And do you propose a solution or are you simply saying all kangaroos need to be protected from all killing?
When interviewing scientists for the movie we learned that the methodology being used to count kangaroos is flawed and continually changed by inflating “estimates.” Some scientists we interviewed used Freedom of Information laws to gather government survey and commercial shooting data and found the kangaroos are actually suffering both local and regional extinctions.

Some scientists are working on co-existence methods with farmers to encourage sharing the landscape. However education is needed within Australia itself before any change of ideology will happen. Is there a need for a solution, a change of ideology, some robust science and public discourse? Definitely.

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Published by

Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen