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Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat

Year: 2004
Language: English
Format: Digital Betacam Colour
Runtime: 91 min
Director: Zev Asher
Producer: Linda Feesey
Writer: Zev Asher
Cinematographer: Zev Asher, Linda Feesey
Editor: Zev Asher
Sound: Zev Asher, Linda Feesey
Production Company: Rough Age Projectiles

“When I set out to make this documentary, I wanted to tell the story from as many perspectives as possible. We interviewed one of the detectives that arrested the boys, along with animal rights activists and other critics. We also interviewed the cat killers. In the end, what angered so many people was that I gave these guys a chance to tell their side of the story.” – Zev Asher

You’ll find the word “casuistry” (pronounced kazoo-istry) in most dictionaries, just above “cat.” It refers to the method of justifying one’s actions in one’s own mind. The term is often used disparagingly, in reference to specious justifications. Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat scratches its way beneath the surface of an infamous Toronto animal-cruelty case, deftly exploring the opaque logic surrounding this macabre act.

Jesse Power, ex-vegetarian, was an art student when he conceived a new project. In May of 2001, he enlisted two friends, Anthony Wennekers and Matthew Kaczorowski, to help him kill a cat. The intention was to make a video that protested the unthinking consumption of factory-slaughtered animals by killing, cooking and eating a cherished domestic pet – a feline posthumously named Kensington by animal-rights activists. Alerted by an outraged roommate, the police found the skinned and decapitated cat in a beer fridge. Kaczorowski fled and was apprehended in Vancouver two years later. All of the three young men involved eventually pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and mischief charges.

Incorporating interviews with the cat killers, as well as with journalists, artists, animal activists and concerned citizens, Casuistry contains disturbing imagery – though, mercifully, not Kaczorowski’s notorious video. Filmmaker Zev Asher eschews rote advocacy; rather, his documentary lurks curiously in murky terrain, playing like the punk B-side of an Errol Morris film. He places us in a unique space, one that vacillates between serious reflection, horror, transgression, banality, righteousness, humour and – mostly – paradox.

One of the most controversial films of 2004, Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat sparked a media frenzy and a firestorm of public debate when it was announced it would premiere at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival®. Animal-rights activists demanded that the film be pulled from the Festival and picketed the film’s screenings, which went ahead largely without incident. Interestingly, New York State’s SPCA is considering using Casuistry in workshops for police and mental-health workers.

By: Andrew McIntosh, Sean Farnel