Important New Film On The Sinking of the Gulf Livestock I live export carrier
Posted on January 31, 2024
In this article Sandra Kyle interviews New Zealand independent film maker Carlie Jackson. Carlie has just completed a film on the sinking of the Gulf Livestock I, a live export carrier that sank in the South China Sea in 2020, killing 43 crew and nearly 6,000 cows.
Carlie was born in rural Waikato, New Zealand, in 1971. She grew up on a dairy farm, developing a deep love of animals along the way, often believing she could communicate intuitively with them.
Carlie had a number of life-changing experiences, beginning from the tender age of 3 years, when she fell into an old farm trough. Her father pulled her lifeless body out just in time but this near-death experience profoundly affected her childhood. From that time onwards Carlie felt her insight into animals grew, and she would often have precognitive dreams about them. She had another profound near-death experience as a teenager, that fundamentally changed her view of existence, time, and consciousness, and this continues to drive all she does today.
From the young age of 19, Carlie single-handedly raised 2 sons (now in their late twenties and early 30s). She has always leaned towards a creative path in life. From painting on canvas to illustrating children’s books and making short films, her creative flair was forever at work.
Today she lives with her husband Greg on the same farm she grew up on, where she now runs an animal rescue sanctuary, rescuing and caring for many abandoned animals. She describes the dairy farm-turned-sanctuary as ‘her happy place’. (Edited from Carlie’s bio on FilmFreeway).
How long have you been a vegan/animal activist Carlie?
I have been a vegan for about 20 years (since my early 30s) and vegetarian through my teens and twenties before that.
I think the first seed of animal rights activism started early for me, on the dairy farm my parents owned, and it was also the catalyst for turning me vegan. My earliest memories are of suffering animals. I remember trying to defend bobby calves around age 4.
I recall witnessing the cruel treatment of calves by truck drivers who would literally throw them onto the trucks, often breaking their bones. I remember hearing the tormented cries, including from the mother cows, and seeing the unwanted calves left on the roadside pens, as they did back then in the 70s. As a young child, I would try to intervene and defend them from the truck drivers.
Over the years I attended many protests, made animal rights videos, and a few animal rights TV productions. I also attempted to start an animal justice party during 2020, but decided to focus my energy toward the film instead, and leave it to the people who were cut out for politics, while I focussed creatively to make a difference.
Why did you form Stonewall Productions?
Prior to forming my production company I spent many years as an artist, and also illustrating children’s books. I wrote two books, one about single parenting (‘Solo Angels’), and a children’s book with an animal rights focus (‘I am Not Bacon’) .
I spent several years in the TV industry producing and presenting shows before I fell in love with film. I decided that film was potentially a more powerful medium than books to reach a wider audience, to move more hearts and to hopefully shift the thinking of the status quo (particularly with regard to animal rights), so I taught myself to both film and edit.
Waking from the dream. Arleearna Drake standing beside her on
screen grandmother ( Lisa Stevens). Māori mythology is woven through the film about
the power of the ocean, and respect for the sea.
When did you decide you wanted to make a feature film about Gulf Livestock I?
I almost felt like the film chose me, if that makes sense!
At the risk of sounding weird, I actually woke from a very lucid dream several months prior to the tragedy. I woke deeply upset from the dream, recounting it to my husband, and because it was so vivid, I felt it was significant and wrote it down in a dream diary I keep.
I often dream about animals who are in distress. I have found abandoned kittens after dreaming about their exact location. Maybe it is due to my ancestral ties to this land where I still live today, who knows?
When I heard the news about the sinking months later on my car stereo, I was incredibly distressed. The way the news rolled out was just as I had dreamt it. “Thousands of frightened cows falling into the sea after the ship capsized.”
The decision to make a film about this came literally within days of the tragedy. I was infuriated about how our government and media were handling things, including their continuous reference along the lines of “they were just cows,” dismissing their suffering, and focusing almost entirely only on the human loss of life.
From left, Phil Palmer, Roman Jackson, and Mike Cater playing NZ and Australian Crew getting ready to
leave Napier Port
Can you outline the process of making the film for us?
Blood, sweat and tears literally for almost 3 years!
Initially, I went to the New Zealand Film Commission to apply for funding. They said because I was a “nobody” they couldn’t help me, and that they preferred not to fund films that involved animals or the ocean, apparently because those things are problematic to film. (!!)
My wonderful dad, who was unwell at the time – and underwent a major amputation – believed so much in my efforts, he offered to fund the film.
I knew we wouldn’t be able to board a real live export ship to film on (although I did approach numerous companies to try!) so we had to improvise cutting between a small boat we ended up using, to real footage that I had obtained from a live export ship.
I started researching early on about the horrific condition the Gulf Livestock 1 vessel was in, and how it had not passed its seaworthy inspection just 12 months prior to leaving Napier Port.
My upset about the tragedy grew even worse when I was told by MPI that it was in fact, a port vet who did the final inspection of Gulf1 before it left Napier Port, and not an engineer. I have this in writing from MPI.
Initially I felt I wanted to lean the film towards a drama as opposed to a documentary, as my concern was that a full-on doco might drive viewers away from watching, if they feared too graphic images.
So, I wrote the script as a drama, based on the true story. Then it was only toward the end of editing the film I decided it must become a docu-drama, because this was the only chance to embed the tragedy into the minds of people, and to remind our government in the event that they might try to bring it back – which they now, very disturbingly, are attempting to do.
Sandra Kyle plays her real life role as an animal rights
activist, as well as the on-screen mother to crew member Chris Gordon. A final
goodbye before leaving Napier Port.
Most of those playing key roles are activists rather than experienced actors?
Yes, most of the actors in the film are activists, friends and people known to me, which was a deliberate decision I made for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I preferred to work with people who had a true passion for having this tragic story told, because I believed that would produce the real fire-in-the-belly required to bring the characters to life.
This was a self-funded film, and I couldn’t afford ‘real actors’ anyway, even though I communicated with Lucy Lawless and a few other known actors. I am glad I did go within unknowns, because each and every actor delivered so beautifully and powerfully. I was wiping tears as I filmed!
I was so humbled by the dedication and delivery of all the actors, and I am so grateful to them all. It’s a very vulnerable situation for them to be in, and they did themselves proud.
Monica Reid with onscreen husband (Chris Gordon) saying a final goodbye
before leaving port.
I think there were many obstacles along the way for you Carlie?
Yes, absolutely. Mammoth obstacles, that I’m still reeling from today.
In a sense I felt like I bled much of my own pain into the film, as we often do as creative people. We pour our pain into something tangible. It has all added an ethereal feeling to the film as well.
The loss of my father during the final stages of editing was an enormous blow for me. I was very close to my dad, and was at his deathbed when he passed. I also had to take a break from the production process while I underwent major cardio-thoractic surgery to my lung, as a result of which I was in crippling pain for a year. What’s more, my son, who is also an actor in the film, left for the Ukraine to fight on the frontline not long after we had finished filming. As a mum, this was a horrific time for me.
On the lighter side of obstacles, because I didn’t have the kind of major funding required – which normally for a film like this would require at least a few million dollars – I had no ‘crew’ as such, other than a group of amazing actors! I had to write, produce, direct, film and edit the entire feature film myself.
When will it be released?
There are a few technical issues within the film that are currently being fixed, so that it will be cinema ready from April. Unfortunately, the NZ Film Festival declined playing the film this year, on the basis that ‘it didn’t fit with their genre of films for 2024.’ It is currently lodged with ‘Doc Edge’ a film distribution hub in NZ, who are making a decision on whether to release it nationwide across all cinemas. Their decision will be made in April, so all things crossed!
If for any reason Doc Edge choose not to distribute the film, I will self-distribute through cinemas that are willing to show the film around New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines, as well as online from early May 2024.
Any funds raised from the film will go to support more campaigning against the Live export industry, as well as other animal rights projects.
Have you got any other projects in the pipeline?
Yes, two projects this year.
I am currently putting my own personal story into a film this year called “Ancestral Fires” centered on a near-death experience I had as a teenager. I am also working on a documentary around the experiences of soldiers on the front line in the Ukraine, and their collective stories about coping with the trauma of war.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I believe if you feel a deep calling to do something that could potentially change history for the better, it is important to honour it. Rather than waiting for permission or approval, find the support and just do it. Life is too short.
I believe it is a moral obligation to Life itself, for each of us to leave a legacy in our lives, and to hopefully leave our planet, the animal kingdom and humanity in a better state than it was. Whether it is to immortalise a story in a book, a piece of music, art, film, or poem, every small offering is important.
I would also like to add that my greatest respect goes to the animal rights activists across New Zealand, who continue to speak out loudly and boldly about the atrocities happening to animals across many industries. It will be the actions of these strong people who will change history.
One of my favourite animal rights sayings in terms of motivation, has always been:
“If not us, then who?….If not now, then when?”