WAKE IN FRIGHT Director's Statement


The very first thing I want to make clear that absolutely no kangaroo was injured or killed for my film, WAKE IN FRIGHT. When we shot the scenes with the kangaroos, there was always a representative of the Royal Australian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals present on the set. In fact they strongly wanted the scenes of the massacre of the kangaroos to be as disturbing as possible for reasons I will specify later.

Sixty years ago, I saw a French film about World War I veterans. To show how degraded and dehumanized they had become as a result of their experiences of that nasty war, they pour gasoline over a dog and ignite it. It was clear it wasn’t faked, the director did it for real. I thought to myself: the film’s director was the degraded and dehumanized one--to commit such an act of wanton cruelty for the sake of a film. Hurting animals is morally indefensible.

Well, when I was faced with the kangaroo hunt in WAKE IN FRIGHT, a climactic scene demonstrating the depths to which the school teacher had sunk, I was totally perplexed about what to do.

Then, hearing of my dilemma, a member of the crew approached and informed me that every night, hundreds of kangaroos are slaughtered in the outback. Huge refrigerator transport trucks stand by as 6 or 8 pairs of hunters go off in different directions in stake trucks in search of kangaroos. As in the film, they use a spotlight on top of their cabin controlled by them inside. The spotlight hypnotizes the kangaroos, freezing them, making them easy targets. After killing a dozen or so, they skin them and return to the refrigerator truck where the carcasses are immediately stored in the cold. Then the hunters go back out in pursuit of more animals.

Why do they kill the kangaroos? What do they do with them? The skins are valuable as they are used to make those cuddly animals dolls, like koala bears, for your children. The carcasses are shipped to the pet food industry in Australia and North America. Think about that next time you feed your cat or dog!

So, one night, I mounted a camera on the back of one of these stake trucks and went out with a pair of hunters. I made it clear to the hunters that they should do nothing out of the ordinary for me and just go about their grisly business as they did every night.

This was how I got the hunt footage for my film. Repellent as some of the footage was that I obtained and used in my film, it was the least upsetting of what I shot. I did not use 75% of what I filmed that night as it was too bloody and horrifying. The Royal Australian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals kept urging me to use this footage because they wanted Australians and the world to see what was being done to the kangaroos in the outback, the wholesale slaughter and carnage being committed every night. But I used only the mildest of the documentary footage that I shot. I also used visual tricks like zooming into a close-up of a kangaroo: it would jump out of the frame leading you to think it had been struck by a bullet when, of course, it hadn’t.

I loved the kangaroos. I spent a lot of time with them, intimately close: they would lie around my director’s chair, waiting, like extras to be asked to do something. They are the most anthropomorphic creatures I have ever encountered. Nothing on earth would persuade me to hurt them or any other animal for any reason whatsoever.

Ted Kotcheff
August 12, 2012