- Director Shaun Monson, left, with Jeff Goldblum
A UNIQUE cinema experience happens this Wednesday, Aug. 12, with the worldwide, one-day-only simultaneous release of Unity, a documentary by Shaun Monson.
A more ambitious follow-up to Earthlings, Monson's previous effort, Unity combines amazing, and often disturbing, cinematography and footage with the unprecedented voiceovers of 100 celebrities.
Which celebrities? Tom Hiddleston, Jeff Goldblum, Amanda Seyfried, Kevin Spacey, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Kristen Wiig, Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Aniston, and Dr. Dre, to name just ten.
How does that grab ya?
The one-day release isn't only a unique business model. It fits the core message of the film: That every living thing on the planet is inextricably linked, and as far as the earth itself is concerned, is "Not the same, but equal."
We spoke with Shaun Monson last week.
You go with a title that is at once very simple and also could mean a lot of things.
The title was selected deliberately. In the universal sense there's no real distinction between the Queen of England and a tree. We felt like the word 'Unity' said the same thing.
This movie is particularly about how we've taken such far strides consciously and evolutionarily, but we're also still such savages. In the same breath, I'd say I don't think there would be anything we came up with that would stop us from killing one another. Except maybe an awareness from within.
Your previous documentary along these lines, Earthlings, focuses on animal rights and animal welfare. Do you sort of springboard off of that to get into the message of Unity?
I think it's a good starting point. I mention it in the film. There's only 14 minutes of animal footage in Unity but it's quite strong.
We say, of course we don't want to hurt whales or harp seals or dolphin, we care about them. But cows, chickens, pigs? Not so much. We call it separation based on form.
In the film we have a shot of eight puppies. Then we cut to a shot of eight lobsters and crabs. We boil these, but these others we don't. It's a comment on how we treat animals but also a mirror into society, into how we treat other people differently based on perceived separation.
That and other things will provoke opinions. Our overriding message in the film, our sort of motto, is: Not the same, but equal. The take-home message we're not just animals or trees but each other.
People have a hard time with that for whatever reason. We feel better thinking there's something special about us over something else.
But imagine if that simple principle— Not the same, but equal—was accepted. Think of the world we would live in.
- Shaun with Michelle Rodriguez
Isn't the dark side of unity called globalism? How do you promote worldwide unity without it inevitably turning into corporate commodification that will eventually destroy most of the indigenous cultures you highlight in the film?
There's a famous quote about how every great civilization was built on the backs of slaves. But we've evolved beyond that. Also you're talking about a sort of behavior modification that comes into play—having the awareness to do things differently than past ages or generations have done things.
Take automobiles. Tesla said, what if we make a car with no oil or gas, only fluid? Entrepreneurs might be the ones to save the world after all, even as these huge mega-corporations are doing just the opposite.
There are other options. There have got to be. People were using a horse and buggy up until the early 1900s. And then came the automobile, suddenly, even though the raw materials for that have been here for thousands and thousands of years.
What happened in the 20th century was we went from horse and buggy to the moon. If you took someone from 200 years ago and put them in a modern car going 80 miles an hour, they'd freak out. Their brain would have no frame of reference for moving at that speed. They couldn't handle it.
- Zoe Soldana
Now to the question everybody wants the answer to: How in the heck did you get so many celebrities to cooperate with this film? Where did you record it all?
We'd go to their house, maybe they'd come to mine. Sometimes we'd go to the studio. If we couldn't physically work together, I'd direct them by Skype.
The whole point was to make it as easy for them as possible. They're busy people. They have other gigs.
So here comes this documentary, and I'd make a point of saying, look it's two pages, we could get this done in 30 minutes.
Sir Ben Kingsley did his in 20 minutes! He was amazing, he just knocked it out and it was perfect.
And then sometimes we'd stay awhile and start talking, having conversations. The last one was Selena Gomez, she was our 100th narrator. She was so nice—she really impressed me. She was like, "Look, I know I'm a musician and a singer, but I also know who Joseph Campbell is."
We sort of started off with just considering the voices: Who was going to give us the best voice? It wasn't so much about big marquee names. We did want some big names so the distributor would be excited about the film. I can't fault them for that—they want people to come to the theatre.
Then we manage to get someone on board like Geoffrey Rush, who opens the picture. He has this deep amazing baritone. He can melt a microphone.
You've got really big names, and then you've got some cool under-the-radar names like Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.
Joe, I think, heard about us through Sea Shepherd, the conservation organization. We have some footage from them in the film. He heard about it and said, I'd like to be involved. Joe is a great guy, super nice guy.
What was amazing about this project was, as word got out, people heard about it and offered their services. They approached us. So I surrendered to the process. cs