Documentary Explores the Moral Struggles of Farming

Queens Priest Seeks A Peaceable Kingdom

An unlikely coalition of two award-winning upstate filmmakers, a former beef farmer from Michigan, and a 34-year veteran of the priesthood from Queens is making possible the New York City premiere of a life-changing film about the humananimal relationship.

The premiere of the 78-minute documentary, Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, will take place on Friday night, May 10, at 7 p.m. at the Hugh P. Kirwan Performing Arts Center at Christ the King Regional High School, located at 68-02 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village.

Sponsored by The Tablet newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, this event is the latest offering of the Tablet Forum, an ongoing series of screenings and speakers organized by Fr. Frank Mann and offered free to the public as a way of inspiring lively and productive community dialogue.

Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home explores the struggle of conscience experienced by several people from traditional farming backgrounds who are now questioning the basic assumptions of their in- herited way of life. Acknowledging the sometimes amazing connections they have shared with animals under their care, the farmers reveal the social and economic pressures that led to their inner conflict.

Interwoven with the farmers’ stories is the animal rescue work of a newly-trained humane police officer whose sense of justice puts her at odds with the law she is charged to uphold. With honest interviews and rare footage demonstrating the emotional lives and intense family bonds of farm animals, this documentary aims to shatter stereotypical notions of farmers, farm life and the animals themselves.

Director Jenny Stein and producer James LaVeck, based in upstate Ithaca, have been across the country sharing Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home at film festivals. It has played to standing-room-only audiences and, along the way, won several awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Canada International Film Festival, the Audience Award at the Yale Environmental Film Festival, and the Best Documentary Award at Chicago’s Peace On Earth Film Festival.

The film has also screened to several sold-out audiences in Australia, taken home an audience award at a Brazilian film festival, and was recently screened in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City by a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. But Stein and LaVeck never found the right opportunity to premiere the film in New York City-until Father Mann reached out.

Mann has spent his whole life in New York City. Almost a year ago, a billboard on the Long Island Expressway caught his eye, and inspired an instantaneous change of consciousness.

The billboard showed a baby pig and a puppy, and posed the question, “Why love one but eat the other?” In a short video created by Stein and LaVeck, titled Father Mann’s Awakening to Compassion for Animals, he shares the details of what he describes as a profound spiritual awakening, and how it inspired him to expand his work for justice to include “all of God’s creation.”

Recently released on YouTube, this video struck a chord, with 10,000 people in over 50 countries watching it within the first several days. Numerous viewer comments express enthusiasm for Father Mann’s message of compassion.

Unaccustomed to so much feedpating, back, Father Mann stated, “It’s not about me, it’s about them,” meaning the animals whose plight has so captured his imagination.

Previous Tablet Forum events organized by Father Mann have focused on the lives of social justice visionaries such as Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. Wanting to expand the forum’s focus to include justice for animals, Father Mann felt he had found the perfect vehicle in Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home.

He contacted producer LaVeck, who was immediately struck by Father Mann’s stance. “His commitment to follow his conscience very much reminds Jenny and me of the subjects of our film,” said LaVeck. “We knew right away that the Tablet Forum was the ideal opportunity for the film’s long-awaited New York City premiere.”

Joining Father Mann and the filmmakers at the premiere will be film subject and former farmer Harold Brown, who experienced a remarkable healing and change of consciousness through a chance encounter with a rescued cow named Snickers.

Long tormented by the memories of what he was required to do to animals on his family’s farm, Brown found a way to transform his pain into inspired action as an outspoken advocate for animals and the environment. On occasion, he has even helped farmers experiencing a similar awakening to transform their work from animal farming to plantbased agriculture.

Brown has also traveled with the film to screenings across North America, and audience members regularly comment on how much they appreciate being able to interact with him.

“This gathering will be an energizing evening of hope, transformation and healing,” said Father Mann, “and hopefully, a life-changing experience.” He sees the program as fitting in with Pope Francis’ inaugural appeal to “protect and respect each of God’s creatures and likewise respect the environment in which we live.”

The May 10 premiere of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home is free and open to the public. A group discussion will following the film, and light refreshments will be served.

Free tickets can be ordered in advance at www.tribeofheart.org/nyctix , or by sending an email to [email protected] or by sending a postal mail request to The Tablet Newspaper, 1712 10th Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215.

More from Around New York