The CCF has prevented the film's widespread release by
threatening Amazon and other distributors with
litigation if they sell the documentary on the animal
activist movement. Luckily, Tower.com currently sells
the DVD, so Joel and I snapped up a copy before it
The film had extensive discussion of the SHAC-7 trial,
with significant interviews with several of the SHAC 7
defendants. The documentary didn't talk about the food
industry, except when a few of the interviewees
mentioned it. Instead, it focused on SHAC-7, animal
testing, and the fur industry -- typical issues
related to ALF-style animal activism.
The film also had a section bashing PETA, focusing
mainly on the North Carolina animal euthanization
fiasco and on their reliance on movie stars as
spokespersons. The film had another section bashing
HSUS about their efforts to save animals during
Katrina (and their attendant efforts to fundraise
during the aftermath of Katrina). When it came to more
grassroots-focused animal activism, however, the film
was quite sympathetic, and even the ALF came off
pretty well, in my opinion.
The only anti-animal person interviewed in the film
was the Center for Consumer Freedom's David Martosko.
He got a ton of screen time, so they certainly can't
be complaining about a lack of CCF presence in the
film. The director doesn't even try to make him look
stupid--his role as an anti-animal lobbyist effectively
discredits all his tsk-tsking about animal rights
Despite its rather obvious attempt to blackball PETA
and HSUS (who, like any large organization, are no
angels, don't get me wrong, but the negative focus on
these two groups seemed a little forced in light of
the rest of the film, particularly the part about
HSUS), the documentary gave a fairly even-handed
portrayal of the animal activist movement in general.
While that even-handedness may be enough to convince
the CCF that the film should be suppressed, I was
curious about whether there was anything else behind
the CCF's rather drastic actions.
That's where the intrigue begins.
On October 19, 2007, Judge T.S. Ellis III in the
Eastern District of Virginia decided Berman v.
Johnson. In this case, Richard Berman, the head of
CCF, sued Curt Johnson, the director of Your Mommy
According to the facts of the case, in 2005, Johnson
and Maura Flynn, another movie producer, decided to
direct and produce two movies, one on smoking issues
and one on "PETA and the animal rights movement."
Flynn would be primarily responsible for the smoking
movie, and Johnson would be responsible for the animal
rights film. (Flynn's husband is a former employee of
Berman's "public affairs firm," Berman and Co.) In the
fall of 2005, Johnson went to D.C. to meet with Flynn
and Berman to discuss the possibility of Berman
investing in the PETA/animal rights film. Berman
"committed $300,000 to the production of YMKA, and
production on the film began."
During the production of the two movies, Flynn and
Johnson helped each other with their movies, but at
some point in 2006, Johnson told Flynn not to travel
with the YMKA crew "because potential interview
subjects had become aware of Flynn's connection
through her husband to Berman and Company and the CCF,
and her presence would make them less willing to
participate in YMKA."
In the late spring and summer of 2006, Johnson
rejected most of Flynn's "editorial suggestions" for
the animal rights film and "ultimately ceased all
communication with her." Johnson then began "publicly
screening a substantially complete version of the film
and contacted various film festivals and distribution
companies regarding the general release of the film."
The film apparently wasn't what Berman or Flynn had
expected. "[T]he great majority of the film is not
directed to PETA, contrary to the treatment prepared
by Flynn and contrary to the understanding Berman
testified he had with Johnson." Berman was mad that
the majority of the film was focused on the SHAC-7,
"particularly given Johnson's portrayal of the SHAC-7
as champions of free speech."
In his opinion, the judge had to decide Flynn's
request to be declared joint author of YMKA and
Berman's request that he be declared the sole promoter
The judge granted Flynn's request to be a joint author
"with all attendant rights and benefits," since she
was, by agreement, supposed to be involved in the
production of the film, and Johnson cut off her
involvement. As a joint author, she can assign the
movie or grant non-exclusive licenses, and that she
can veto any effort by Johnson to grant an exclusive
license. She also gets money from every license
The judge didn't grant Berman's request to be the
exclusive promoter of YMKA. In an earlier jury trial
in this case, Berman had been awarded $360,000 for
breach of contract (since the YMKA that was actually
made was very different from the YMKA that they'd
agreed to produce). The judge found that the monetary
award had "made him whole" already, and if he got the
promotional rights as well, he would be doubly
compensated, which isn't allowed.
If Berman had been granted exclusive promotional
rights, he probably would have just buried the movie
by not having it shown at theaters or sold as a DVD.
Since he didn't get exclusive promotional rights, he's
trying to bury the movie in another way -- by
threatening to sue distributors.
I don't know what legal theories Berman has behind the
threats. If I had to guess, he might be saying that
the movie was produced with stolen money, or that it
was made fraudulently, or that it advocates terrorism
-- none of which seems like a particularly strong claim
This interesting story also sheds some light on the
odd anti-PETA and anti-HSUS segments of the movie --
perhaps Johnson was trying to incorporate some of Berman's and Flynn's demands into the film so that
they wouldn't sue him. And it also possibly explains
why PETA and HSUS refused to be interviewed for the
film -- they might have been the "potential interview
subjects" who had gotten wind of Berman's involvement
with the film. The documentary (and PETA and HSUS)
would have benefited from an interview with PETA and
HSUS spokespersons, but, if the Berman connection is
the reason why they reneged on their original
agreement to be interviewed, that's an understandable
reaction. And it may explain the weird title, taken
from one of PETA's more off-putting publications that
the CCF loves to talk about -- perhaps the title was
set before Johnson had his apparent change of heart.
So I think that's the story behind Your Mommy Kills
Animals -- it started life as a PETA hit piece, but it
grew up to be an eloquent defender of free speech and