When I started making The Bull and The Ban, a controversial documentary about the moral issues surrounding bullfighting in 21st century Spain, I had no idea it would take up 3 years of my life.
I had never made a film before. It was while working for a teen community TV channel in London that I hit on an idea of making a film about the children in Spain and Mexico who go to bullfighting schools – it seemed beyond belief that any parent would allow their kid to take part. I was going to take a couple of teens from the UK over and see how they could take to it. While I was working on my contacts for this, another documentary I was unaware of came to my attention – Little Matador. So I was scuppered. Well, so I thought.
I was lucky enough to receive an email from a bullfighting club in London ” Club Taurino”. One of their longtime members Bob Rule was living in Andalusia, Spain. I was moving there, and Barcelona was about to abolish bullfighting on cruelty terms. But, when I looked into this, Catalonia, the state that Barcelona is the capital of, would not be banning bull festivities. So, bull running, famed in Pamplona for drunken escapades of many a gap year student, would not be banned. Except instead of the grand running to the bullring of the Basques, these bulls were set fire to with tarred horns, teased by drunken villagers poking them with whatever they wanted, no regulations, some activities included drowning the bull in the sea or cutting off its genitalia. Bullfighting experts argued that bull running was way more cruel than bullfighting, which is regulated in a bullring with pedigree animals (bull running uses the dregs of the herd) and a “bullfight” (Or corrida) would only last 10-15 minutes instead of the hours a bull running can take.
I moved to Spain in 2010, and went to meet Bob in his village near the Sierra Nevada region of Granada. A beautiful village, we sat in a very Andalusian bar sipping back tiny beers and tapas. We quickly established a friendship, and so production began on what would be a very different story than the one I initially set out to make. As with most documentaries, one contact led to another and I was soon at a bullfight in Atarfe with the famous bullfighting aficionado Noel Chandler, a man who is honored in Pamplona for his bull running chops. Now in his eighties, he has been friend to many a great matador and writer including the Hemingway family and Orson Welles.
I was vegetarian when I started filming, and vegan when I finished. I spent time in slaughterhouses, at bullfights and bull breeding ranches. I met one of the world’s most famous matadors as well as the most famous animal activists in Spain. I argued with many people, and fell out with some. I had a car crash that nearly finished me off and left me with a permanent disability. I visited sixteen towns across Spain, and stayed in twenty-five hotels. I gave up my day job and started writing for a living. It was a life devouring experience that changed me forever.
Photos I took during filming – (L-R: Bullfighters in Atarfe, Students train in Malaga, Bull head, Estepona)
My view of death, animal rights and humanity changed forever. I am in an unique place of having dear friends, both online and in real life, from all over the world in both the for and against camps as a result – as well as a number of enemies – mostly animal rights activists who believed I made a film about how wonderful bullfighting is. They have not seen my film, or read my book, because they act as ignorant and fundamentalist as some of their arch enemies in slaughterhouses and badly run bullrings – they don’t want any information. But many of my new friends have no problem with me being a mere observer.
My film is simply an honest view of both viewpoints – well, in fact, I found more than two standpoints. There are many stands to take between pro and anti. One common thread in all these good people has been a love of animals, and animal welfare. That bullfighting people are passionate about nature and their pets. And that those against bullfighting have not necessarily educated themselves fully before having an opinion. I think when people see my film there is a good chance they will still hate bullfighting. Some will feel guilty about the terrible practices in slaughterhouses and meat-eating, and feel as I did, that bullfighting is a tiny part of a huge genocide of animals taking place every day; but also, that there is something beautiful here in Spanish culture that needs to be looked at in terms of conservation for the future.
I don’t think my film is technically excellent because that would have taken a budget. I didn’t have an HD camera, or a boom, or any crew. I had one laptop, two hard drives and a broom handle. But thanks to the kindness of people who believe in creating art, awareness and a record of our times – and there were many – I have now stopped tinkering and released the film. It’s available on Distrify above, and shortly on Amazon.
You can read a transcript of all the interviews, along with essays in the book that accompanies the film here
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