Variety Article


Moby on Hot Docs-Premiering Activist Doc ‘Rowdy Girl,’ Clip Released (EXCLUSIVE)

By Jennie Punter
April 27, 2023

Five years ago, New York-based filmmaker Jason Goldman was researching a possible documentary about animal sanctuaries and heard about Renee King-Sonnen, who had gone vegan a few years earlier, transformed her husband’s Texas beef cattle ranch into Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, and started advocacy work that received regular national media attention.

In a clip (see below) released in advance of the world premiere of Goldman’s “Rowdy Girl” at Hot Docs this weekend, King-Sonnen succinctly lays out the origin of her life-changing decision to visitors seated at her kitchen table: “I was seeing how my actions were contributing to violence and cruelty … I started having real issues that I was loving some animals and eating others.”

It’s the kind of sit-down-and-get-real conversation she’s been having for more than a decade and that has caught the attention of influential like-minded people such as music innovator Moby, who had previously discovered King-Sonnen’s active voice on social media, and whose Little Walnut (“Punk Rock Vegan Movie,” “Moby Doc”) boarded “Rowdy Girl” as executive producer at an early stage.

“My hope is people will see both the vulnerability and emotional complexity of the animals in ‘Rowdy Girl,’ but also recognize Renee as the inspiring and fascinating Texan that she is,” Moby recently told Variety. His company ethos, he said, is to use various media to address activist issues in creative, non-didactic ways, and “Rowdy Girl” was a perfect fit.

Goldman, who worked for the legendary Maysles Films during an evolutionary period for the company in the 2000s, wanted to employ an observational style of filmmaking to create a cinematic vision of the animal rights movement that would be accessible to mainstream audiences.

“After going vegan and watching prominent animal-rights films, I realized that there was a gap in the ‘animal rescue’ category,” he told Variety last week. “There are so many stories all the time about animals escaping and going to sanctuaries: But what is the point of these small organizations?

“Then I realized these places are opportunities for people to meet animals in person. Mostly people have never met a pig or a cow or a chicken or any of the animals they buy to eat. So that was my jumping-off point.”

When he first spoke to King-Sonnen on the phone, in October 2018, Goldman discovered that she was not only rescuing animals but, as she puts it, rescuing ranchers: “She wanted to change the landscape of agriculture in [the United States], and provide ranchers—and farmers who grow animals for food—an opportunity to do something different.”

Goldman’s initial plan was to film a massive summit that King-Sonnen was attending in Austin, Texas, in September 2020, alongside farmers and animal rights and plant-based activists, and follow her meeting with a farmer who is going through the transition process and then watch them working together in a hands-on way.

“Obviously, 2020 had different plans for us,” Goldman said, “but I realized we could capture Renee’s spirit through the different types of activism she does and with people who are in all different phases of their own transformation. You see the gears turning in different people in different ways.”

After filming approximately 30 days over two-and-a-half years, Goldman turned to documentary editor Pilar Rico, who works between New York and Spain. She was 2018 recipient of the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship, Diversity in the Edit Room, and her most recent credit is Jared P. Scott’s Venice-premiering feature-length enviro docu “The Great Green Wall” (2019).

“Since I was both directing and producing, I wanted someone with a clear vision of storytelling to help me pull together a narrative with moments from Renee’s life and make it feel cohesive, intentional, and driving,” said Goldman, who has several activist and human-rights film projects in various stages of development.

King-Sonnen’s personal journey, Goldman added, is what will pull audiences closer to her kitchen table. “When you make a big change in your life, you often hold on to things that you feel most comfortable with. But once you stop eating animals and realize what your history of eating them has done to them, there’s no turning back.

“And Renee is wonderful at helping people connect the dots without hitting them over the head.”

“Rowdy Girl” is an acquisition title, with North American sales handled by Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter of The Film Collaborative, and worldwide sales handled by Ana Fernandez Saiz of Impronta Films.

The film is directed and produced by Goldman, and edited by Pilar Rico. Moby (through Little Walnut) is executive producer. Greg Beauchamp and Carter Collins are co-executive producers.

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